New York (July 9, 2020) – The U.S. Attorney’s Office of Southern District of New York reported that Inigo Philbrick, former art dealer with galleries in London and Miami, was arrested on the Pacific Island of Vanuatu on June 11 for engaging in a multi-million dollar art fraud. The ‘serial swindler’ allegedly defrauded investors and lenders out of more than $20 million from 2016 to 2019. The complaint alleges that Philbrick, among other things, sold the same art works to different investors, sometimes using the works as collateral on loans while hiding others’ ownership interests. Philbrick was charged in the complaint with one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office Southern District of New York announced in a press release that art dealer, Inigo Philbrick, was arrested on the Pacific Island of Vanuatu on U.S. charges for engaging in a multi-million dollar fraud scheme. The U.S. citizen, previously residing in London, allegedly defrauded investors and lenders in connection with works by notable contemporary artists to finance his art business.
The alleged art fraud of the ‘serial swindler’
Philbrick ran art galleries in London and Miami and specialized in post-war and contemporary fine art. Now he is accused of fraudulent practices. On the grounds of the accusations that Philbrick engaged in a scheme to defraud multiple individuals and entities in the art market, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman called the 33-year-old a ‘serial swindler’.
On April 30, the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York filed a complaint against Philbrick. Subsequently, a warrant for his arrest has been issued. The complaint alleges that he made material misrepresentations and omissions to art collectors, investors, and lenders in order to procure access to valuable fine art and to obtain sales proceeds, funding, and loans premised on his alleged ownership of fine art.
From 2016 to 2019, among other things, Philbrick allegedly sold the same art works to different investors, sometimes using the works as collateral on loans while hiding others’ ownership interests. Furthermore, Philbrick provided fraudulent contracts and records to investors to artificially inflate the artworks’ value and conceal his scheme. He also used a stolen identity for the seller in one of his contracts.
The FBI accused Philbrick of making these fraudulent misrepresentations about, among others, a 1982 painting by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat titled ‘Humidity,’ a 2010 untitled painting by the artist Christopher Wool, and an untitled 2012 painting by the artist Rudolf Stingel depicting the artist Pablo Picasso. That way, Philbrick obtained millions of dollars in loans and sale proceeds. The complaint alleged that he defrauded his clients out of more than $20 million as a result of the scheme. Reportedly, one Singapore-based art investor told a London judge that Philbrick holds about $70 million of assets and that the combined value of the art managed by his businesses may be as much as $150 million.
The downfall of the fugitive art dealer
In the fall of 2019, various investors and lenders learned about Philbrick’s fraudulent practices and his alleged fraud scheme began to come to light. Subsequently, numerous investors had filed civil lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions by November 2019. At around the same time, Philbrick’s art galleries in Miami and London closed. The prosecutor said, Philbrick also stopped responding to the legal process at that time.
Shortly before public reporting began about the lawsuits, Philbrick apparently departed the U.S. According to the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, Philbrick had been residing on their island since about late October.
‘Mr. Philbrick allegedly sought out high-dollar art investors, sold pieces he didn’t own, and played games with millions of dollars in other people’s money. The game ended when investors began wondering where their money went,’ stated FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. ‘Hats off to the FBI NY Joint Major Theft Task Force/Art Crime Team who worked diligently to track down Mr. Philbrick and bring him back to the U.S., where, if convicted, he might have to trade in his jet-set life for a drab federal prison cell.’
‘Now he is in U.S. custody and facing justice’
Philbrick was charged in the complaint with one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. A Manhattan federal court unsealed the complaint on June 12.
On June 11, Vanuatu authorities expelled Philbrick at the request of the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea. Consequently, Philbrick was arrested and transported to Guam, an island on U.S. territory in the Western Pacific, where he was presented in U.S. federal court on June 15.
‘As alleged, Inigo Philbrick was a serial swindler who misled art collectors, investors, and lenders out of more than $20 million. You can’t sell more than 100 percent ownership in a single piece of art, which Philbrick allegedly did, among other scams,’ said U.S. Attorney Berman. ‘When his schemes began to unravel, Philbrick allegedly fled the country. Now he is in U.S. custody and facing justice.’