An allegedly stolen identity and multimillion-dollar bids for a couple of pieces of contemporary art have resulted in two men being charged in federal court.
On October 5 a seven-page complaint was filed against Antonio DiMarco and Joakim von Ditmar, charging each with wire fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft.
According to court papers, in November 2017 a Bal Harbour, Florida, woman and DiMarco, who had been hired in 2014 to perform construction and design work on her home, discussed attending Sotheby’s November 16 and 17 contemporary art sale in New York City. DiMarco allegedly presented the woman with a letter that he claimed would provide access to the auction. She signed the letter “without reading or reviewing it.”
She didn’t attend the sale, but in December 2017 or January 2018, she got a call from a Sotheby’s staffer, asking if she had bought any art during the November sales. She told the staffer no, and then she called DiMarco, who allegedly told her not to worry about it.
According to auction house records, a January 23, 2018, invoice reflected the sale of an untitled work by Mark Rothko on November 16, 2017, for $6,437,500 and the sale of No. 12 by Ad Reinhardt on November 17 for $1,155,000. The invoice named the woman and Empire Equity Investments, LLC.
When asked about Empire Equity Investments, LLC, the woman told authorities she believed it was associated with DiMarco.
The auction house had a copy of a letter, signed by the woman, on Empire Equity Investments, LLC, letterhead, authorizing DiMarco and Empire Equity Investments, LLC, to bid on her behalf. The letter also stated that Empire Equity Investments, LLC, and DiMarco had managed her accounts for over 20 years and that she “currently has the ability and liquidity to make a cash purchase” in the amount of $7 million.
An e-mail to Sotheby’s from an account connected to von Ditmar stated that DiMarco was part of Empire Equity Investments, LLC, and was authorized to bid. Copies of the authorization letter, a bank letter, and articles of incorporation from Empire Equity Investments, LLC, were also sent to Sotheby’s.
As of January 24, the auction house had not been paid and had received excuses from DiMarco, including a claim that he was waiting for a $500 million trust to be set up. Sotheby’s took action. In an October 16 statement, the firm stated, “Following the November auction, our discussions with the purchasers raised significant suspicion and concern for the elderly client they purported to represent and we felt it was necessary to contact the FBI.” At the time, Sotheby’s was in the red, as it was contractually obligated to pay the consignor.
An FBI investigation revealed that the two men had attempted to acquire art from ten other auction houses and galleries but had been unsuccessful.
An e-mail sent to another auction house from von Ditmar read, in part, “[A financial advisor] confirmed that the documents required for the opening of the bank accounts were submitted [to a foreign bank (“Bank-2”)] today. He has no more information for now, in reference to how fast and also how much funds can be moved as we unfortunately are dealing with a 13hr time difference with [Bank-2] in Hong Kong unfortunately [sic].
“I am not sure how much information I have shared with you in regard to the size of this trust and foundation? Approximately $1bill [sic] have been set aside by the client through his Hong Kong holding company for the sole purpose of acquiring art and building a very important international art collection.
“With me alone they have [sic] so far already acquired art for $98.422.000 [sic], that includes your invoice(s) and they have committed to another $118mill for a few select works. That does not include a $41mill Rothko, a $30mill Picasso and a $32mill Basquiat and several other works that I do not even know what they are that they have acquired separately and also need to be paid for.”
Sotheby’s noted, “We are pleased that the appropriate action has been taken and the victim has been protected. We have already resold the work by Mark Rothko and have plans to reoffer the Ad Reinhardt as well.”
Originally published in the December 2018 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2018 Maine Antique Digest