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Former Florida art dealer pleads guilty in $86 million fraud case

Authorities say the scheme involved several works, including a Basquiat painting.
Former Miami art dealer Inigo Philbrick pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud after prosecutors said he conducted a scheme from 2016 through 2019 to defraud individuals and entities to finance his art business.
Former Miami art dealer Inigo Philbrick pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud after prosecutors said he conducted a scheme from 2016 through 2019 to defraud individuals and entities to finance his art business. [ Tribune News Service ]
Published Nov. 20
Updated Nov. 20

NEW YORK — A former Miami and London art dealer pleaded guilty Thursday to defrauding art buyers of more than $86 million.

Inigo Philbrick, 34, a U.S. citizen who also has lived in London, entered the plea in Manhattan federal court.

He pleaded guilty to a single count of wire fraud after prosecutors said he conducted a scheme from 2016 through 2019 to defraud individuals and entities to finance his art business.

“Inigo Philbrick was a serial swindler who took advantage of the lack of transparency in the art market to defraud art collectors, investors, and lenders of more than $86 million to finance his art business and his lifestyle,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a release.

Prosecutors said he carried out the scheme by misrepresenting the ownership of certain artworks and by sometimes selling more than 100 percent ownership to multiple individuals and entities without their knowledge.

Artworks used in the scheme included, among others, a 1982 painting by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat titled “Humidity,” a 2010 untitled painting by the artist Christopher Wool and an untitled 2012 painting by the artist Rudolf Stingel depicting the artist Pablo Picasso, authorities said.

The scheme unraveled as jilted art buyers filed civil lawsuits, a lender notified him that he was in default of a $14 million loan and he stopped responding to legal process, prosecutors said.

In 2019, his art galleries in Miami and London closed, and Philbrick fled the U.S. before being arrested in June 2020 in Vanuatu, where he had been living since October 2019, prosecutors said.

Sentencing was set for March 18.