SEATTLE — A Seattle-area man who sold counterfeit artwork attributed to famed Northwest artist Dale Chihuly was sentenced Wednesday to five months in federal prison, three years' supervised release and ordered to pay more than $75,000 in restitution.
Michael Little, 35, of Renton, pleaded guilty in June to wire fraud following a probe by the Seattle-Tacoma Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST Seattle), led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Little admitted to buying pieces of generic glasswork and artwork over the Internet, then offering them for sale on eBay, falsely claiming they were authentic Chihuly works. Alerted to the fraud, eBay removed some of Little's auction postings and issued him a warning. Despite that, Little continued posting and selling the counterfeit art in person, online and through a Renton auction house. According to court records, from 2011 to April 2013, Little grossed at least $40,000 from the scam.
The artworks bore a signature that appeared to be Chihuly's and Little provided forged paperwork that he said authenticated the pieces as those of the renowned glass artist. However, an expert in Chihuly's work examined the pieces at the request of several buyers and determined they were fakes. Prosecutors say Little told potential buyers various stories about how he acquired the artwork, including that his family purchased them after winning the lottery.
Agencies represented on the BEST Seattle include HSI; U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Office of Field Operations; the U.S. Secret Service; the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service; the FBI; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the Port of Seattle Police Department. BEST Seattle investigates smuggling and related crimes and combats criminal organizations seeking to exploit vulnerabilities at the Seattle and Tacoma seaports and adjacent waterways.
The case was prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Washington.