Great Escapes

05.20.14

A Pastor’s Holy Mistake: Selling an Art Forgery

After discovering his Damien Hirst paintings were fakes, Florida pastor Kevin Sutherland continued to try to sell them…to an undercover cop. He’s now been sentenced to six months in jail.

While some art forgers are in it for the thrill, most involved in passing off fake art as authentic are just looking to make an extra buck. Even those who preach the virtues of living a sin-free life.

In April, 45-year-old Florida pastor, Kevin Sutherland, was found guilty of second-degree attempted grand larceny for knowingly trying to sell forged art works to an undercover police officer. On Monday, he was sentenced to six months in jail and five years of probation.

Sutherland—who began dealing art four years ago—met his downfall after making just one bad decision. The pastor began acquiring paintings by British conceptual artist Damien Hirst from California-based dealer, Vincent Lopreto, in eBay purchases beginning in 2012. Sutherland soon began flipping his new art—Hirst “spin” paintings, circular canvases that had been spun while various pigments were thrown onto the surface—for a $7,000 profit.

In December of 2012, Sutherland approached Sotheby’s auction house in New York in an attempt to sell one of the paintings at auction. Sotheby’s had experts examine the work under consideration and soon concluded that it was forged. The auction house notified the authorities.

Lopreto, who was under a large scale investigation, was finally arrested in October 2013 on counterfeit charges as well as identity theft and fraud. He, along with his gallery partner Ronald Bell, had created dozens of forged Hirst works and accompanying authenticity documents, which they sold to unsuspecting victims (like Sutherland) on eBay.

While Sutherland waited for confirmation of his painting’s authenticity, he was contacted by an undercover agent seeking to procure a Hirst original. Sutherland said he possessed one, but was waiting for confirmation that it was available for sale.

By January 31, Sutherland was notified that his Hirst paintings were fakes. But instead of calling it a loss, the pastor immediately contacted the undercover officer claiming to have two “spin” paintings as well as three “dot paintings,” all with the correct papers and available for $185,000. The two met and, soon after, Sutherland was arrested.

Sutherland’s attorney, Sam Talkin, argued that he should receive probation instead of jail time because of his clean criminal record. But the judge didn’t bite. “Here he had a choice, and he made the wrong choice,” New York State Supreme Court Justice Bonnie G. Wittner stated. “He could easily have rectified it in the right way.”

“This crime was motivated by greed,” assistant district attorney Rachel Hochhauser said. “He did more than try to pass on his financial loss. He tried to get a windfall from it.”