Man selling fake Basquiats and Harings busted by the FBI in WhatsApp sting

Angel Pereda has been charged with wire fraud for trying to sell forged artworks for millions

A 49-year-old man accused of trying to sell Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring fakeries for millions of dollars has been arrested in New York.

Angel Pereda of Mexico had approached New York auction houses throughout 2020 and 2021 to sell the artworks he claimed were genuine, falsifying the provenance (a document that lists previous ownership of a piece).

“If real, such works would be worth millions,” Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss said in a statement announcing his arrest. “The alleged fakes have little or no value, except potentially as evidence of the alleged crime.”

He was brought down by a Whatsapp sting, after the Keith Haring Foundation determined that a yellow vase and painting being offered to two auction houses were not genuine, and alerted the FBI.

They then gained cooperation from an intermediary seller, who told Pereda a painting had been discovered as a fake, but would still try to sell it for $6 million if Pereda provided a fresh provenance. Pereda complied, transferring a new document via Whatsapp.

The charge of wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

“As we allege, Mr. Pereda conned art buyers, hoping his victims wouldn’t see the difference between real art and a forgery,” FBI assistant director William F. Sweeney Jr. said in a statement. “He used their trust to his advantage by passing off worthless pieces as priceless works of art. Hopefully, this case provides a lesson to any others hoping to engage in similar behaviour – the FBI’s Art Crime Team has the resources to distinguish the real from the fake, and its members will ensure you face the consequences of your actions.”

Earlier this year, Basquiat’s estate pulled the plug on an upcoming auction for an NFT of a drawing by the late artist, which would have granted the buyer permission to destroy the original artwork.