NEWARK, New Jersey: A federal prosecutor in New Jersey says the government has seized a massive trove of artworks that were used to launder money raised through fraud. They were appraised at nearly $16 million.
The main part of the shipment arrived in New Jersey last year from Texas on an 18-wheel truck – its contents a mystery.
After five days of inventory, the haul proved to be significant. More than 1,100 pieces of art, mostly works by some of America’s most influential photographers, including Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Weston.
The valuable shipment was moved again to New York, but instead of being carefully exhibited in a home in Spain as planned, it ended up in the hands of federal authorities. By the end of an investigation, authorities had seized more than 2,200 pieces.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark announced a Feb. 22 court filing that alleges the artwork was purchased with money collected in a scheme that sold fake credits for renewable energy. The complaint seeks to force the owner to forfeit the works.
Authorities said they were seized from a warehouse in New York in July, weeks after being moved from Newark and readied for shipment to Spain via Amsterdam. The works include numerous prints by Stieglitz, including one of his famous artist wife, Georgia O’Keeffe, which sold for $675,000. An Edward Steichen print titled “Greta Garbo for Vanity Fair Hollywood” was purchased for $75,000.
Authorities allege the artworks’ owner, Philip Rivkin, used money fraudulently funneled through his Houston-based company, Green Diesel, to buy the art. Rivkin has not been formally charged with a crime.
Kyle Sampson, a lawyer for Rivkin, said he was aware the forfeiture action was filed.
“We have not received formal notice of the forfeiture action, but I am aware that a complaint has been filed,” he told AP. “We’ve been working for some time with the EPA in an effort to resolve their concerns and any other outstanding issues there may be.”
A lawyer for Green Diesel declined comment in an email.
Rivkin was owner and CEO of Green Diesel and a company called Fuel Streamers. Authorities allege in the complaint that Rivkin and others claimed the companies produced, purchased and imported renewable fuel. Authorities say the fuel did not exist.
Authorities allege Rivkin used Green Diesel’s bank account and other accounts to buy at least $18 million in artwork. Rivkin tended to buy his photographs in groups, making it difficult to trace individual purchases, but authorities said they have matched 1,590 pieces of art to one credit card and four bank accounts.
In April 2012, the federal Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation to Green Diesel, alleging it improperly generated credits that track and boost renewable fuel production. Authorities claim that Rivkin arranged to have the art shipped out the year before, after learning of the investigation.
An EPA spokesman did not return a call for comment.
According to the complaint, authorities said, much of the artwork was shipped from Houston to Newark and eventually bound for Spain.