NY charges three over $400K Damien Hirst forgery ring

New York prosecutors unveiled charges Monday against three men accused of manufacturing and selling $400,000 in fake Damien Hirst prints to dozens of art buyers around the world.

The sculpture "Hydra and Kali" is seen at the exhibition "Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable" by British artist Damien Hirst at the Pinault Collection in Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi in Venice
The sculpture "Hydra and Kali" is seen at the exhibition "Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable" by British artist Damien Hirst at the Pinault Collection in Punta della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi in Venice (AFP)

New York prosecutors unveiled charges Monday against three men accused of manufacturing and selling $400,000 in fake Damien Hirst prints to dozens of art buyers around the world.

Vincent Lopreto, 52, appeared in court on Monday, 15 days after being released from prison for previously selling knock-off Hirst works online, prosecutors said.

Famed for his stuffed sharks, the 52-year-old Hirst has amassed a fortune as the most commercially successful member of the Young British Artist movement that dominated the British art scene in the 1990s.

Manhattan's district attorney Cyrus Vance also announced grand larceny and scheme to defraud charges against Arizona's Paul Motta, 50 and Marco Saverino, 34.

The defendants faked paperwork to deceive buyers into believing the prints were genuine, stealing $400,000 from victims in New York and as far afield as Britain, Canada, Germany, South Africa, South Korea and Taiwan, prosecutors said.

Two sales were made to an undercover investigator posing as a buyer.

Authorities confiscated tools allegedly used to create the forgeries from Lopreto's apartment in New Orleans, Louisiana, said Vance's office.

Hirst won the Turner Prize in 1995 and went on to attract a huge following that went well beyond the rarefied confines of conceptual art.

He figures regularly on lists of Britain's wealthiest people, thanks partly to a 2008 auction at Sotheby's that saw him cut out gallery middlemen to sell 223 new pieces for 111 million pounds ($141 million at current exchange rates).

Lopreto pleaded guilty in January 2014 to selling forged Hirst prints online.