Gallery Owner Accused of Cyberstalking Members of L.A.’s Art Scene
Jason White was a convicted felon from North Dakota who managed to infiltrate the Los Angeles Art world, until he snapped. On Wednesday, FBI special agents arrested the 43-year-old for allegedly stalking, threatening and attempting to extort art world professionals in a series of schemes that stretched from California to the United Kingdom. He was expected to make his first court appearance in Los Angeles Wednesday afternoon, facing federal cyberstalking charges.
White’s journey from an L.A. art gallery to FBI custody, as told through text messages and emails documented by the criminal complaint against him, illustrates the downward spiral of a disturbed and desperate man.
The criminal complaint, unsealed for the public on Wednesday, states that White began his multi-pronged harassment campaign against a former employer, colleagues, clients, artists and their children on approximately September 23, 2013. But the story really started months before that, in April 2013, when, according to the complaint, White was hired as a salesman or independent contractor by a fine art gallery in Los Angeles. The gallery’s owner who, in the complaint is referred to as R.B., but will be called “Ray” for the purpose of this story, told Elizabeth Rivas, the FBI special agent charged with investigating the claims against White, that he hired White under the impression that he was a successful and experienced salesman, with many loyal clients that he would bring with him when relocating from North Dakota to L.A. Ray says that White requested all of his paychecks be made out to the Fargo Gallery in North Dakota, which he claimed to own and run. (A Google search for ‘the Fargo Gallery North Dakota” yields no evidence that a gallery by that name exists).
Ray says that it became pretty clear not long after he started that White had neither the experience nor the connections he claimed, never selling enough work by the gallery’s main artist (we’ll call him “Fred,”) to make a commission that exceeded his base salary. White’s financial problems seemed to be taking a toll on his work, and he was constantly getting in arguments with his boss (another victim, referred to in the complaint by the initials “A.S.” Let’s call him “Alex”). On August 15, 2013, Alex says that he and White got into an argument at the office. Later that night, White emailed Ray to notify him that his relationship with Alex was making him unhappy at work and that he was going to look for a new job. He packed up all of his belongings when he went home that evening and a few days later set out on the cyber crusade that would eventually place him at the center of an FBI investigation.
On August 23, Ray received an email from White claiming that the Fargo Gallery was owed money for time and funds spent on selling Fred’s work. White also suggested that Fred’s art was not authentic and wrote, “A person with nothing to lose becomes a very powerful thing,” a concept that would become a consistent theme throughout White’s plotting.
In the same email, White noted that he’d created two websites using Fred’s name and demanded that Ray enter into a “non-disclosure agreement” and pay the Fargo Gallery a consulting fee of $150,000 in exchange for the web domains, warning that non-compliance would result in an increased fee and “things that may not be undone.” White then proceeded to email Ray’s largest client, a British art distributor who owns approximately 42 galleries in the United Kingdom, has worked with Ray for more than eight years, and purchases nearly 80 percent of Fred’s work. In a series of emails to the British distributor, White allegedly claimed that Ray and Fred were engaging in international fraud, requested again that he be paid a consulting fee (this time upping the price to $300,000 of no specified currency), and threatened to spread the fraud story to the London papers if his demands were not met.
With no one taking his bait, White cast a larger net. He started contacting more of Ray’s clients, one in Hawaii and another in North Carolina, claiming that Ray was running a “sweatshop” and that Fred’s works were fraudulent. He reached out to Ray’s son, Alex, and other employees of Ray’s, sending them long, ranting series of text messages at all hours of the day and night, many of them including pictures of White, blocks of exclamation points, and plenty of F-bombs.
A string of texts White sent to Ray, Ray’s son and Alex between the hours of 9:45 p.m. and 11:36 p.m. on September 23 include:
“ur so fucked!!!”
“I am now guarding you. This is now a pick up game. I will break you down and take you out of the game. This shit just got real…..And your ego will hang on this one. More bombs will drop tomorrow you crooked piece of shit!”
And, “You have a very small window once again assholes. The figure will be high but we could lend our time and sign a nondisclosure agreement with R.B. fine art. I am about to fuck you up. I have done this before dickhead!!!!!!!!!”
Throughout his incessant and often incoherent texting and emailing, White continued to demand a ransom for the websites he’d purchased, warning that they’d be used to destroy his victims’ reputations. Separately, he went after Fred, the artist, attempting to persuade him to buy the domains and save his career from destruction at the hands of Ray and his “rodeo sense of fucked upness.” The more emails and text messages White sent, the darker and more disturbing they became, hinting at White’s anger and his sordid past. “I am a ruthless motherfucker and actually bro I’ve been to the joint. I’ve had to fight for my life,” he wrote to Ray’s son at around 1:33 a.m. on September 24.
It wasn’t until this January, though, that White’s threats took a serious turn, shifting his focus from his former colleagues to their families and, specifically, their children. On January 5, White emailed Alex notifying him that he’d created yet another website, this one under Alex’s name. He began contacting people connected to Alex’s spouse on Facebook, a deacon at their church, and continued texting. On January 14, Alex says he received a string of text messages from White, with photographs of Alex’s minor child along with comments like, “accidents sometimes happen at the beach,” and, “He’s a cute kid. It would be very unfortunate if something was to happen to him.”
Alex’s kid wasn’t the only one White claimed to be after. On January 23, he posted a message on Fred’s Facebook page with a photo of himself claiming that Fred stole $100,000 from him. In an email to Fred that same day, White wrote: “You can put this on the record and call whatever authorities but I’m coming by you bro...and I’m coming by your family...and I may just focus on your kids...And I’m only going to say a quick hi. But some words last a lifetime...I have nothing left to lose...and maybe having a bed every night for the next 30 years in an little 8x10 room...doesn’t sound that bad.”
Around this time, the FBI received another complaint from a different artist and his son who say they, too, were being threatened by White. At some point between the time he left Ray and November, 2013, White rented space in Temecula, a city bordering San Diego in California’s southwestern Riverside county, and opened his own “White Galleries.” In November, “T.G.,” who we’ll call “Todd,” entered into a number of three-month consignment and distribution agreements for the work of his artist father, referred to in the complaint as “J.F.G.” In December, Todd became aware that White was struggling financially and decided to help by paying for his security deposit to the electric company to keep the power from being turned off at White Galleries. This proved to be a mistake for Todd, who says White then asked him for more money to pay for things such as rent, advertising, and other gallery needs. Concerned about White’s desperate behavior, Todd removed some of his father’s original works from White Galleries and replaced them with prints. (Some of J.F.G’s works, at an estimated retail value of $80,000, are still at White’s gallery).
During the week of January 20, Todd says he attempted to visit White on a couple of occasions and noticed a sleeping bag at the gallery. When he confronted him about it, Todd says, White admitted that he was living there. Another time Todd came by, he says White refused to open the door, brandished a knife, and told Todd to leave. On the afternoon of January 20, White emailed Todd saying that he owed White for breaching their contract and, he claimed, attempting to break open the gallery doors. “Our fee is 41,000,” White wrote, according to the complaint. “Last night cost us time and a damaged door. if your family can not pay our fee within 2 business days form[sic] this notice, all consigned inventory will be forfeited. We will only speak to a lawyer. And the [members of the victim’s family] are not welcomed at [sic] gallery in temecula.”
White continued to send Todd messages, each time increasing the amount of money he said he was owed. He then lobbed the same threats at Todd that he’d used on the Fred and Alex, sending photos of Todd’s minor child and warning that he would “stand outside that bitches[sic] school...and you are fucked...And what if I’m willing to do the time!!! You don’t fucking know me bitch..You are fucked!!!!!!!!”
Before taking him into custody on Wednesday, FBI agents staked out White at his gallery, which also appeared to be his home. As some of his text messages suggest, White has a criminal record. According to the complaint, White was convicted for possession of a controlled substance in 2001, misdemeanor fraud in 2005, and unlawful possession of a weapon and a controlled substance in 2010. His driver’s license and Facebook profile also indicate that, while the Fargo Gallery may or may not be a real thing, White likely is from North Dakota where, last February, a one Jason White was tried and convicted on charges of disorderly conduct. Now he faces another charge on his rap sheet, and up to five years in prison if convicted. All for a little piece of the art world’s pie.