A Michigan Photography Dealer Has Pled Guilty to Defrauding Multiple Collectors Out of an Estimated $1.5 Million

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A Michigan-based gallerist has pled guilty to defrauding more than 10 collectors out of an estimated $1.5 million, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Michigan has announced. 

The dealer, Wendy Halstead Beard, was charged with one count of wire fraud related to a multi-year scheme in which she concocted elaborate lies to con clients out of money and photographic prints. She now faces up to 20 years in federal prison. Her sentencing is set for December of this year. 

Beard “swindled numerous families out of valuable artwork and lied to them repeatedly in order to keep her fraud scheme afloat,” U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison said in a statement. “She did this for no reason other than to line her own pockets at the expense of her victims.”

“There is no place for this kind of criminal deceit in our community, and today’s conviction holds this defendant accountable for her conduct,” Ison added. 

Beard, 58, was arrested last October. Charges filed at the time alleged that the dealer, who ran the Wendy Halsted Gallery in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, bilked collectors by accepting payment for artworks that she never delivered and taking in artworks on consignment and then selling them without notifying their owners.   

Former Birmingham Art Dealer Pleads Guilty to $1.5 Million Fraud Schemehttps://t.co/gAabVmwbEc

— U.S. Attorney EDMI (@USAO_MIE) July 13, 2023

The gallerist also went to great lengths to avoid the clients she defrauded, such as by inventing fake employees and exaggerating her own health conditions, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.  

In 2018, for instance, an 82-year-old art collector consigned Ansel Adams’s The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park (1942) with Beard, who estimated the piece to be worth $625,000. She later told the owner that she couldn’t sell the print, then consigned it herself through a Wyoming-based gallery, where it sold for $440,000. 

When the collector asked for the print back, Beard claimed that she was suffering from pulmonary issues. An invented gallery employee named “Julie” later wrote that Beard had undergone lung transplant surgery. 

That same year, the dealer sold a separate Adams print to a friend for $73,000. But after the piece went undelivered, and the buyer asked about it, Beard said she had been in a months-long coma. 

In an email to Artnet News, Beard’s lawyer, Steve Fishman, said that his client “acknowledged her wrongdoing by entering a guilty plea without requiring the government to obtain an indictment. She accepted responsibility for her conduct which is the first step toward rehabilitation.” 

As part of a plea deal, Beard acknowledged that she defrauded 10 clients and agreed to forfeit any property obtained through the scheme. Fishman noted that, while the U.S. Attorney’s Office estimated that her crimes added up to $1.5 million, he contends that the amount was closer to $500,000. He said the actual amount will likely be decided upon sentencing in December. 

 

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