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More Than 1,600 Artworks Seized : Suspected Fakes Confiscated in Raids on Galleries, Homes

Times Staff Writers

It is believed to be one of the largest confiscations ever of suspected fraudulent art, Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates said Thursday after detectives seized more than 1,600 art prints and other works in a series of raids touched off by the arrest of an art dealer trying to peddle a phony Renoir.

Officers, with help from the district attorney’s office and the FBI, searched eight outlets of the Upstairs Gallery art store chain in West Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley, Beverly Hills and Costa Mesa. The vast bulk of the seized works came from the firm’s warehouse in Huntington Beach, officers said.

The raids began Wednesday night with the arrest of a Manhattan Beach art dealer who allegedly tried to sell a fake Renoir for $3.2 million to an undercover police officer posing as a Japanese businessman during a meeting in the Little Toyko section of downtown Los Angeles. The dealer, a French national named Frank De Marigny, 38, was arrested and booked for investigation of grand theft. He was held at the Parker Center jail in lieu of $1 million bail.

Nightlong Operations

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After the arrest, officers fanned out to the galleries. The search and seizure operations lasted through daybreak Thursday.

The 10 search locations included De Marigny’s beachfront home, where officers recovered several paintings and an assault rifle, and the Marina del Rey residence of another person, who was not arrested.

The massive haul turned a property storage room at police headquarters into a virtual art gallery, with lithographs stacked to the rafters. Other suspected phony works attributed to such prominent artists as Marc Chagall, Joan Miro and Rufino Tamayo were displayed to the media as Gates hailed the work of the search teams.

“These intrepid enforcers of the law saved people who are art lovers a great deal of money” by making the confiscations, the chief said.

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Overall, officers seized 1,687 lithographs believed to be fraudulent, with about 1,200 of them taken from the Huntington Beach warehouse, said Detective Bill Martin, the department’s art sleuth.

Some of the alleged fakes retailed in art galleries at upwards of $50,000 each, with a total value of about $15 million.

Martin said he believes that the overnight raids may have netted the most suspected fraudulent lithographs ever seized.

Neither Gates nor Martin could estimate how many unsuspecting art buyers may have already purchased phony prints, saying only that rising demand for art in general has led to millions of dollars of fraud.

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Won’t Explain Relationship

Also, they said they could not explain the relationship of independent dealer De Marigny to the Upstairs Gallery chain without jeopardizing the continuing investigation. Gates said detectives were still checking to see whether anyone in the firm’s management is linked to the alleged fraud.

A spokeswoman for the Upstairs Gallery said an internal investigation was under way to determine whether the firm was duped into buying fake art.

“As far as this company is aware, all of the prints which the company purchased from its sources are believed to be authentic,” said Patricia White, the firm’s vice president.

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Gates said the case began when detectives found out that De Marigny was offering the painting “Young Girl With Daisies” by French impressionist Pierre Auguste Renoir for sale. Investigators immediately were aware that the painting was a fake because the real one hangs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

De Marigny also uses an alias of Frank Orval, and has a clean criminal record, police said.

De Marigny lives in a posh house on The Strand in Manhattan Beach, drives a Rolls-Royce and a Ferrari and is known by art insiders as “Prince Frank,” said Dale Sekovich, an investigator for the Federal Trade Commission who has monitored the case.

Although the FTC was not conducting its own investigation into the Upstairs Gallery confiscations, Sekovich said the commission has the power to initiate a civil lawsuit to try to gain restitution for victims of art fraud.

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Martin said some of the allegedly phony artwork seized in the raids appears linked to a Claremont man, criminally charged in August, who was deemed by a district attorney’s office spokeswoman to be “one of the largest art forgers on the West Coast, if not the United States.”

The alleged forger, Anthony Gene Tetro, 39, faces 45 felony counts for allegedly fabricating and distributing lithographs of the works of well-known painters. Martin said he was free on bail awaiting court proceedings in his case.

Police initiated their investigation of Tetro’s activities after Japanese artist Hiro Yamagata recognized a miniature watercolor being sold under his name as a fake on a stroll through a Beverly Hills gallery.


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