In Michigan, a photography dealer named Wendy Halstead Beard has pleaded guilty to wire fraud.
The scheme involved more than 10 clients and approximately $1.5 million worth of art, including photographs by Ansel Adams.
According to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan, Beard, who used to work in Birmingham, Michigan, was arrested by the FBI in October 2022.
Prosecutors claimed that she defrauded her customers and embezzled the money over the past two years.
As part of a multi-year investigation by the FBI, Beard received fine art photography prints on consignment. Instead of informing the owners and selling the artwork, she kept the proceeds for herself.
To deceive the owners, she regularly lied about the status of the photos. She even went so far as to claim that she had been in a coma for months and had received a lung transplant.
In addition to this, Beard tried to pass off cheap copies of Ansel Adams prints she bought from the photographer’s gift shop as original, signed photographs.
The Attorney’s Office mentioned that Beard tried to gain the trust of her victims by making excuses for not returning the photographs promptly after the consignment agreements expired.
She played up her own health problems, falsely claiming to have been in a coma and to have had a double-lung transplant. Beard also misled her victims, saying there was a lack of interest among potential buyers, even though she had already sold the photographs.
To further deceive them, she created fake employee identities for correspondence with her victims.
Beard has admitted to defrauding over 10 victims during the two-year scheme. One victim was specifically targeted due to their vulnerability, being of advanced age, according to the plea agreement.
United States Attorney Dawn N. Ison stated, “This defendant swindled numerous families out of valuable artwork and lied to them repeatedly in order to keep her fraud scheme afloat.”
Ison emphasized that there is no place for this kind of criminal deceit in the community and that the conviction holds Beard accountable for her actions.
Devin J. Kowalski, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office, commented, “With today’s plea, Ms. Beard has taken a first step towards accepting responsibility for her criminal behavior.”
Kowalski assured that the FBI will continue to investigate art fraud and seek justice for those affected by these schemes.
A report from Art News states that Beard will be sentenced on December 20.