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California

2 Laguna Beach men held in sale of counterfeit art

Two Laguna Beach men have been arrested on suspicion of selling counterfeit artwork, Laguna Beach police said Thursday.

Vincent Lopreto, 48, and Ronald Bell, 49, are accused of selling fake artwork that they claimed was by Damien Hirst, an English-born artist who has exhibited throughout the world, online and through auction houses.

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Both men are accused of first-degree identity theft and operating a scheme to defraud. They are being held at the Orange County jail awaiting extradition to New York, where the investigation began.

Laguna Beach detectives and investigators from the Manhattan district attorney’s office served search warrants Wednesday at the homes of Lopreto and Bell, co-owners of Jazzartz on South Coast Highway, and at the store. Inside Jazzartz, detectives found additional counterfeit Hirst pieces, tools to make the reproductions and fake certificates of authenticity, authorities said.

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Police said most of the victims, including some outside the country, bought their fake artwork on EBay or through auction houses around the United States.

Lopreto was convicted of art fraud in 2008.

bryce.alderton@latimes.com


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