According to documents filed in court, the defendants were involved in the sale of fraudulent limited edition prints online which were apparently signed by the artist and priced at thousands of dollars each. The works were being offered on eBay primarily.
The defendants also allegedly used fake documentation, including fraudulent certificates of authenticity and purchase receipts, to deceive their victims into believing that the pieces were genuine.
One of the men, Vincent Lopreto, 52, of New Orleans had previously been convicted of selling forgeries in 2014.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R Vance, said: “Vincent Lopreto is charged with resuming the same scheme to knock off Damien Hirst artworks that sent him to prison just 15 days after being released.”
Lopreto was arrested in New Orleans on June 14. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of defrauding and larceny.
“The art market’s demand for limited editions can lead to fake pieces with little value,” said District Attorney Vance. “In this case, the alleged fraud went beyond plain imitation, and the defendants are charged with deceiving a multitude of buyers into purchasing counterfeit art that was falsely passed off as genuine.”
The court documents appear to indicate that the fakes were produced using relatively simplistic methods using a stamp, printer and a few other tools. They also state that the counterfeit works were sold to buyers not just from the US but also from the UK, Germany, Italy, Macedonia, South Africa, Canada, Taiwan and South Korea.
Two further sales were made to an undercover investigator posing as a buyer, according to the District Attorney office.
Vance said: “There is no substitute for due diligence – to avoid becoming a victim of fraud, I encourage prospective buyers to confirm an item’s authenticity with the artist, advertiser, or an academic expert prior to making a significant investment.”
None of the men charged could be reached for comment.