Detroit News: FBI Raids Leelanau Home Allegedly Connected to Multi-Million Dollar Art Forgery Business

The Detroit News says the feds raided a Leelanau County home while investigating a multi-million-dollar art forgery ring.

The newspaper says that artists may have been faking works from famous American painters and selling phony sports memorabilia.

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A bird’s eye view of the home from Google Earth.

9&10 News spoke to the FBI Detroit bureau and they confirmed they are investigating a home in Cedar; but they wouldn’t go into specifics.

The Detroit News says DB Henkel may have been making hundreds of thousands of dollars re-creating paintings from American artists like Ralston Crawford, Gertrude Abercrombie, and more, plus faking souvenirs from sports legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.

They say he did it in his home and barn in the woods of Cedar. They say the national ring has been running for years, and selling real-looking-fakes for upwards of $300,000 at auction.

Craig Hadley is the executive director of the Dennos Museum in Traverse City and taught a college class on art forgeries. He said faked paintings and works are more common than you’d think.

“When you think about the different types of criminal activity, art forgery isn’t always at the top,” said Hadley. “Art forgery is one of those things that has taken place as long as art has existed.”

He said there are two main ways fakers can pass off their work: they can either recreate existing works, and justify their authenticity by presenting them as a real duplicate, which can be believable when you’re dealing with lithographs, or photos; or, fakers can create a new work entirely and say it was done by the master.

“Usually what happens is a forger will take a look at an artist’s full repertoire of work and figure out where a logical gap might exist and how they could create a work that complements existing bodies of work,” said Hadley.

Many times, phony works pass through the cracks and get to auction.

If a work is authenticated, everyone wins: the auctioneer, the gallery, the museum, and the buyer.

“Everybody wants to believe that the work is real. As soon as one of us realizes it’s not, the whole system breaks down,” said Hadley. “There isn’t a whole lot of incentive in the system to really question the veracity. That’s where we get in trouble.”

The Detroit News says this particular ring broke down when investigators noticed a historical flaw in some supposedly older works.

“It was the realization that, hey, acrylic paints wouldn’t have been in widespread use at this particular time…that often gets forgers in trouble, because it can be one trace element like that that unravels the whole thing,” said Hadley.

9&10 News is working to independently verify the contents of the Detroit News article.

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