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Foundry boss admits Johns art fraud

A former New York foundry owner once popular with artists has admitted trying to sell rip-off sculptures of Jasper Johns' classic 1960 Flag painting and works by two other artists, ending a week-long trial that featured evidence by Johns.

Brian Ramnarine, 59, who pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud in Manhattan federal court, falsely claimed that the artists had authenticated the sculptures that prosecutors said he created from moulds he kept after being paid by the artists to do work.

US district judge John Koeltl asked him if he knew what he was doing was wrong and illegal when he committed the crimes. "Yes, your honour," Ramnarine answered.

Ramnarine's skills with liquid metal made him a favourite of artists in the 1980s and early 1990s and Johns said he had used him several times because of his excellent work.

Ramnarine agreed not to challenge any sentence of 10 years or less in prison as part of a plea deal. The wire fraud charges otherwise carry a potential of 60 years in prison and Ramnarine could face another 20 years because he admitted carrying out additional sculpture frauds after his arrest.

He will be sentenced on May 30.

Ramnarine admitted falsely telling prospective buyers that the works he was offering from Johns and two other artists were legitimate.

Johns, 83, of Sharon, Connecticut, told the court last week that the sculptures of Flag offered by Ramnarine were fakes.

He was the star witness for prosecutors trying to prove Ramnarine tried to sell an unauthorised bronze sculpture of the painting in 2010. Four bronze copies of Flag were made in 1960 and the jury was shown a picture of President John F Kennedy posing with one that was given to him.

The artist said he went to Ramnarine in 1990 and asked him to create a wax mold because he was considering making a gold sculpture of Flag from a wax mould. He said he did not believe he had spoken with Ramnarine since 1990 and was not friends with him.

Johns chuckled when a prosecutor asked him if he ever gave Ramnarine a copy of a painting that was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for millions of dollars.


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