Florida pastor convicted in NYC fake Hirst artworks case; could face up to 7 years in prison

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Florida pastor convicted in NYC fake Hirst artworks case; could face up to 7 years in prison

NEW YORK, N.Y. - A Miami pastor accused of offering faked works of British art star Damien Hirst to an undercover officer was convicted Tuesday in New York of attempted grand larceny.

Prosecutors said Kevin Sutherland, who leads the nondenominational, 200-member Mosaic Miami Church, tried to sell the counterfeits for $185,000.

He could face up to seven years in prison when he is sentenced on May 19.

"We are, of course, disappointed, and we're going to look into all of our options" for a potential appeal, said Sutherland's lawyer, Sanford "Sam" Talkin. He declined to specify what issues might be raised in an appeal.

Hirst received Great Britain's best-known art award, the Turner Prize, in 1995.

According to his lawyer, Sutherland began dealing in cowboy-related art in 2010 and soon began buying Hirsts, or what appeared to be Hirsts.

Part of a group dubbed the Young British Artists in the 1990s, Hirst is known partly for dotted, pharmaceutical-themed "spot" paintings and circular, sometimes kaleidoscopic "spin" paintings.

Sutherland tried last year to sell two counterfeit spin paintings and three bogus spot prints for $185,000 to a seeming buyer — actually an undercover officer — though Sotheby's auction house had told the pastor the authenticity of one of the paintings was in question, the Manhattan district attorney's office says. When the undercover officer asked about potential problems with the artworks, Sutherland said he wasn't aware of any issues, authorities said.

"He had choices he could have made that would have brought him to a very, very different place," Assistant District Attorney Rachel Hochhauser said in a closing argument.

But Sutherland said Sotheby's never clearly told him the artworks were fake. He said he didn't ask Hirst's studio for clarification, as Sotheby's suggested, because the authentication process was pricey and because he believed he had an authenticity guarantee from the man who'd sold him the works — an admitted art scammer who testified against him.

"Kevin Sutherland believed the art to be real," Talkin said in his summation.

The case against Sutherland grew from a Manhattan DA's office investigation that also ensnared three other men. The Laguna Beach, Calif., gallery owner accused of selling Sutherland the fakes, Vincent Lopreto — who had already served prison time in another phoney-Hirst case — and business partner Ronald Bell pleaded guilty to charges including identity theft. They're awaiting sentencing.

Richard Silver, a part-time art dealer who said he unwittingly bought phoney Hirst prints from Lopreto but then doctored appraisals to resell them, pleaded guilty to misdemeanour forgery charges, in exchange for a 60-day jail sentence.

Organizations: Sotheby's, Mosaic Miami Church, Young British Artists

Geographic location: Florida, NEW YORK, N.Y., Miami New York Great Britain Manhattan Laguna Beach

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