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Another Reason to Never Buy Expensive Art on eBay

By Marcus Gilmer in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 20, 2008 5:36PM

2008_03_Miro.jpgWe have to admit that we, like many, have been burned on eBay before. Whether it was a new driver to improve our woeful golf game or a set of Precious Moments figurines, it's happened to us all and we storm off in a huff, a little angrier and $50 down. But imagine paying thousands of dollars for an alleged Picasso on eBay and finding out that it was not only a fake, but that someone connected with the forgery purposely jacked up the bids.

That's exactly what happened thanks to an art forgery ring that netted $5 million and stretched around the globe, touching down in our own backyard. Two Northbrook dealers, Michael Zabrin and James Kennedy, were among those named in the indictments.

One of the Northbrook dealers, Michael Zabrin, spoke in code as he discussed the counterfeit prints over the telephone with his European contacts, according to the charges.

Zabrin went so far as to provide many customers with certificates that purported to prove the authenticity of the limited-edition prints, but prosecutors said they were fraudulent as well.

The second local dealer, James Kennedy, forged the signatures of celebrated artists such as Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Alexander Calder and Joan Miro, and traveled the country to sell the fakes at art shows, authorities said.

A New York art dealer named Leon Amiel, Jr. is listed in the same indictment as Kennedy and is responsible for placing fake bids on eBay to boost the auction prices of some of the forgeries sold on the website.

This isn't the first time Zabrin's been in trouble with the law. He was also involved in the 1990s fraud case involving Donald Austin, who had a chain of galleries, including one on Michigan Ave. Also, there's no confirmation if the indictments are related to the January raid of the Kass/Meridian Art Gallery in River North, though the Tribune reports no one from that gallery was named in either of the recent indictments. The lesson here, children, is that if that deal on an "original" Dali print seems too good to be true, it probably is.