A Michigan gallery owner was arrested by the FBI for counts of theft and forgery of famous photographs by Ansel Adams. The gallery owner allegedly defrauded mostly elderly clients when they trusted her to sell the photographs on their behalf. Altogether the combined value of the works is estimated to be around the region of $1.6 million.
Wendy Halsted Beard was arrested on Friday after police raided her home in Birmingham, Michigan. She was charged with mail and wire fraud and accused of orchestrating a scheme involving photographs that she received on consignment.
Prosecutors allege that Beard sold pictures without the owner’s knowledge, pocketed the cash, or failed to return unsold works. She also allegedly returned fake prints instead of the original photographs back to the owners.
The Detroit News reported that Beard tried to pass off cheap copies of Adams’ prints as original, signed photographs. However, she had bought them from the photographer’s gift shop.
A 24-page criminal complaint was released saying “over 100 rare fine art photographs with a combined estimated value of approximately $1.6 million have been identified as being consigned to Beard and not returned or sold to victims without being delivered. Beard’s victims are typically elderly individuals.”
One such victim gave Beard $900,000 worth of fine art photography in 2018 for her to sell on consignment. The famous Ansel Adams photograph The Tetons and Snake River was part of that consignment. Beard apparently sold the photograph for $440,000 but the victim was never notified she had sold it and never received the money.
Investigators report that when clients asked for the return of their unsold photos Beard gave them the cheap gift shop prints instead of the original signed photographs.
[Via The Detroit News]