A Florida pastor was convicted Tuesday of attempted grand larceny after he allegedly tried to sell five fake paintings to an undercover cop. The pastor's lawyers have said they disagree with the verdict and are looking into appeal options.
A jury for the Supreme Court in Manhattan, New York, found Kevin Sutherland, pastor of the nondenominational Mosaic Miami Church, guilty of second-degree attempted grand larceny after he allegedly tried to sell five fake paintings by British artist Damien Hirst to an undercover cop for $185,000. The paintings were meant to be a part of the famed artist's dot and spin collection.
Sutherland had reportedly purchased the fake works from forger Vincent Lopreto, who worked out of Laguna Beach, Calif., selling dozens of counterfeit Hirst works on the internet via eBay. Lopreto also supplied buyers with fake signatures and phony letters of authenticity. The forger had been a cooperator with investigators against Sutherland.
Prosecutors argued that after purchasing the forged pieces from Lopreto, Sutherland had attempted to sell one piece of work to Sotheby's auction house in New York City. He had been told by the auction house that the piece had not been approved for authenticity by Hirst's studio in London.
Five days later, when an undercover agent pretending to be a potential buyer asked Sutherland if there were any authenticity issues with the five forged Hirst paintings, the pastor reportedly replied that "everything's good" and failed to mention Sotheby's review of one of the pieces.
Sutherland's lawyers argue, however, that their client was not art-savvy enough to tell the difference between a genuine and fake painting. Additionally, Sutherland argued that his email communication with Sotheby's had been very vague and he did not gather from his conversations with the auction house that the piece was a complete fake.
"We of course disagree with the verdict and we are going to look into all of our options as far as an appeal," Sam Talkin, an attorney for Sutherland, said in a statement following the verdict.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement that "New York's culture and identity is significantly shaped by artists, who are an important part of our city's economy."
"Because the art industry is largely unregulated, it is particularly important to hold accountable those who fraudulently deal artwork and to preserve the integrity of this market."
Sutherland will be sentenced in May, and he could receive up to seven years in prison or just probation.