On March 1, United States Attorney for New Jersey Paul J. Fishman announced that he and Assistant U.S. Attorney Marion Percell filed a complaint on February 22 in the U.S. District Court of New Jersey for forfeiture of more than 2200 pieces of art—mostly vintage photographs—from Green Diesel, LLC, and Fuel Streamers, Inc., both owned by Philip J. Rivkin. The complaint charges that Rivkin bought the photo collection with funds collected from the sale of fraudulent credits for renewable fuel, transported the photographs over state lines, violated the Clean Air Act, conspired to commit mail and wire fraud, and committed acts of money laundering.
From November 2007 through July 12, 2012, Rivkin and other unknown associates purported to be operating a facility in Houston, Texas, that generated biomass diesel fuel. Green Diesel sold credits called RINs (Renewable Identification Numbers), required by the EPA to track renewable fuel production. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandated that a minimum of 7.5 billion gallons of renewable fuel be produced by 2012. Green Diesel sold its nonexistent RINs to firms such as Shell Oil, BP, Citgo, and Exxon for a sum that exceeds $78 million, U.S. Attorney Fishman alleges. The Houston facility never produced a drop of biodiesel, the complaint states.
Rivkin used funds realized from the alleged fraud to buy an airplane for $3.4 million and a Lamborghini Murcielago coupe for $269,666 and moved both to Spain. The complaint alleges that Rivkin spent at least $18 million on purchases of vintage and collectible photographs. He bought at auction and from galleries that specialized in photography. Here are a few examples: he paid $134,500 for Edward Weston’s Dunes, Oceano at Sotheby’s in 2010; he paid $130,000 for Eugene Atget’s Notre Dame from Camera Lucida in 2011; and he paid $35,700 for Alfred Stieglitz’s 1894 platinum print The Letterbox from the Lee Gallery in 2011.
In January 2012, Rivkin ordered that crates filled with 396 packages of photographs be moved via an 18-wheeler from Houston to a warehouse in Newark, New Jersey. On July 6, 2012, a representative for Rivkin made arrangements to ship the repackaged photographs to Spain via the Netherlands. The shipment was to take place on July 12. On July 11, a seizure warrant was obtained from the U.S. Magistrate for New Jersey, and the U.S. Secret Service executed a search warrant and seized the 2251 vintage photographs packed into 14 crates.
The company that appraised the collection of seized photographs for $15.77 million was New York Fine Art Appraisers (NYFAA). Danielle T. Rahm, director of NYFAA, issued a statement on March 7, part of which said: “Regarding the collection overall, it is a major collection of fine art photography worthy of any museum in the world. It spans the 19th to the late 20th century. Among the schools of photography represented are Pictorialism, Modernism, Surrealism, WPA, fashion, and documentary works—essentially, every significant movement in international photography up through the 1960’s.”
Rahm added that it included “an extraordinarily extensive selection of fine art nudes, well over 300 in number, including three of Gary Gross’s photos of a young Brooke Shields.”
The law allows the “defendant property to be forfeited and condemned to the United States of America; that the plaintiff be awarded its costs and disbursements in this action; and that the Court award such other and further relief as it deems proper and just.” One reading of the law means the government gets to keep any money realized; another makes the oil companies, as the only victims, claimants for those funds.
Originally published in the April 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest