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Thursday 21 August 2014

Pastor in fake Hirst artwork trial

Published 08/04/2014 | 06:02

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The front and back of a counterfeit Damien Hirst spin painting. Miami pastor Kevin Sutherland knowingly peddled phony examples of some of Hirst's signature themes, prosecutors said (AP)

A Florida pastor knowingly peddled fake examples of some of Damien Hirst's signature themes, prosecutors have told a jury.

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But the defence claimed Kevin Sutherland was just an art-market novice who could not read red flags about the pieces' authenticity.

Jury deliberations will resume today in Sutherland's attempted grand larceny trial. The case is one in a series of prosecutions surrounding counterfeit works by British artist and Turner Prize winner Hirst.

Part of a group dubbed the Young British Artists in the 1990s, Hirst is known partly for dotted, pharmaceutical-themed "spot" paintings and circular, sometimes kaleidoscopic "spin" paintings.

Sutherland, 46, who leads the non-denominational, 200-members Mosaic Miami Church, began dealing in cowboy-related art in 2010, his lawyer said, and soon began buying Hirsts, or what appeared to be Hirsts.

Sutherland tried last year to sell two counterfeit spin paintings and three bogus spot prints for 185,000 dollars (£111,000) to a "buyer" - in fact an undercover officer - though Sotheby's auction house had told the pastor the authenticity of one of the paintings was in question, the Manhattan district attorney's office says.

When the undercover officer asked about potential problems with the artworks, Sutherland said he was not aware of any issues, authorities said.

"He had choices he could have made that would have brought him to a very, very different place," assistant district attorney Rachel Hochhauser told the court.

But Sutherland said Sotheby's never clearly told him the artworks were fake. He said he did not ask Hirst's studio for clarification, as Sotheby's suggested, because the authentication process was pricey and because he believed he had an authenticity guarantee from the man who sold him the works - an admitted art scammer who gave evidence against him.

"Kevin Sutherland believed the art to be real," his lawyer, Sanford "Sam" Talkin, said in his summation.

The case against Sutherland grew from a Manhattan District Attorney's office investigation that also ensnared three other men. The California gallery owner accused of selling Sutherland the fakes, Vincent Lopreto - who had already served prison time in another fake Hirst case - and business partner Ronald Bell pleaded guilty to charges including identity theft. They are awaiting sentencing.

Richard Silver, a part-time art dealer who said he unwittingly bought fake Hirst prints from Lopreto, but then doctored appraisals to resell them, pleaded guilty to misdemeanour forgery charges, in exchange for a 60-day jail sentence.

Press Association

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