Men accused of selling paintings with fake signatures: Feds

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Most coins with fake signatures have sold for more than $100,000, officials say.

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Correction: Loadouts for this story have been updated.

For about 15 years, a Michigan man added fake signatures on paintings and memorabilia while working with his brother and straw sellers to sell the collectibles as if they were real, according to federal authorities.

The Michigan brothers and a third man in Florida were caught selling the forged artwork and memorabilia — many for more than $100,000 — and were recently charged in federal court, officials say.

Brothers Donald Henkel and Mark Henkel, and Raymond Paparella, have pleaded not guilty to mail or wire fraud in connection with the scheme, according to a Thursday, April 21 press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago. . Mark Henkel pleaded guilty to “an additional charge of witness tampering for allegedly corruptly persuading a co-schemer to make a false statement to law enforcement.”

“Mr. Paparella has pleaded not guilty and is innocent of these charges,” defense attorney Damon Cheronis said in a statement to McClatchy News. looking forward to clearing his name in court.”

Defense attorneys for the Henkel brothers did not immediately respond to a request for comment from McClatchy News on April 22.

Authorities allege that between 2005 and 2020, Donald Henkel, 61, ‘altered and applied fake autographs or signatures to paintings and memorabilia, including sports, Hollywood and music collectibles, to make the items appear authentic or more valuable to potential buyers, including art galleries, auction houses and individuals.

The forged creations included paintings, baseballs and baseball bats, record albums and photographs of celebrities, according to an indictment filed in court.

Some of the artwork was signed as if late artists Ralston Crawford and George Ault created them, officials say, and he used the forged signatures of Major League Baseball legends Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and Cy Young on other memories.

Donald Henkel used a vintage pen to make the work more valuable, according to court records. He is also accused of inventing false origins and history for the paintings and memorabilia.

He then worked with his brother Mark Henkel, 66, to recruit straw sellers, including Paparella, 59, records show. Straw sellers would impersonate the owners of the coins “to deceive potential and actual buyers and to conceal the role of (the Henkels)”.

Authorities say there were five other accomplices involved in the fraud.

Victims included an Illinois auction house, New York art galleries and auction house, Texas and Pennsylvania sports memorabilia auction houses, a London auction house and a California collector and seller of Walt Disney memorabilia.

In an example provided in court records, authorities say the baseballs sold for about $121,000 at an auction with the alleged autographs of Wagner and Christy Mathewson. A baseball bat with Young’s signature forged sold for $120,000 at auction.

A fraudulent painting by Ault sold at auction for about $372,500, officials say, fetching accomplices about $270,000.

If the men are convicted of the charges, they face up to 20 years in federal prison on each count, according to the news release.

This story was originally published April 22, 2022 10:57 a.m.

Kaitlyn Alanis is a McClatchy National Realtime Reporter based in Kansas. She is an alumnus of agricultural communication and journalism at Kansas State University.

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