SEATTLE – A 35-year-old Seattle-area man who sold counterfeit artwork attributed to famed Northwest artist Dale Chihuly pleaded guilty Wednesday to federal wire fraud charges, 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).
Michael Little, of Renton, admitted to buying various pieces of generic glasswork and artwork over the Internet, then falsely claimed to buyers on eBay that they were authentic Chihuly works. Court records say Little grossed at least $40,000 through his scam that ran between 2011 and April 2013.
The artworks bore a signature that appeared to be Chihuly’s and Little provided forged paperwork that he said authenticated the pieces as the work of Dale Chihuly. However, an expert in Chihuly’s work examined the pieces at the request of a number of the purchasers and determined they were fakes. Prosecutors say he told various stories to potential buyers about how he had acquired the artwork, including that his family had purchased the pieces after winning the lottery.
Wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Little’s sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 4. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Diggs.
BEST Seattle is comprised of members from 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.