The first of eight suspects accused in a massive Indigenous art fraud case has been sentenced to five years in prison in a northern Ontario court Thursday.
Justice Bonnie Warkentin sentenced Gary Bruce Lamont — a 61-year-old Thunder Bay man — for his part in the production and sale of fake Norval Morriseau art between Jan. 1, 2002, and Dec. 31, 2015.
He is getting a year’s worth of credit for already serving eight months in presentencing custody, so will serve four more years.
Lamont was charged with seven others in March by Ontario Provincial Police and Thunder Bay police following a collaborative investigation dubbed ‘Project Totton’ involving counterfeit art sold as work by the late renowned artist.
Through the investigation that took about two and a half years, more than 1,000 counterfeit paintings, prints and artwork were seized, OPP said.
The total number of fake art produced is unknown.
Lamont was originally charged with forgery, uttering a forged document, defrauding the public over $5,000, fraud over $5,000 and commission of an offence for a criminal organization in connection with the counterfeit Morrisseau art.
He pleaded guilty Dec. 4 to making false documents and defrauding the public more than $5,000.
So far, 190 Lamont forgeries have been identified and 117 pieces seized by investigators.
The sentencing hearing started at 11 a.m. and ended just after 3 p.m.
Lamont arrived in the courtroom a few minutes late and stood in the accused’s box during the hearing wearing dark clothing.
The agreed statement of facts were read into the court record along with victim impact statements.
“Today is a historic day in the art fraud world,” Warkentin said to the courtroom at the start of the hearing.
In a joint sentencing submission, the Crown and defence asked for a five-year prison sentence with a credit for the one year Lamont has already spent in jail.
Ultimately, Warkentin agreed and accepted the joint submission.
The Crown is not seeking restitution orders but is seeking forfeiture for the paintings that have been seized by police.
One of the many victims of the ‘Lamont Fraud Ring’ said she lost more than $100,000 by buying the counterfeit artwork, in her victim impact statement read into the record.
The actual Morrisseau originals still need to be verified.
Any offence-related property forfeited will become the King’s and it will be up to the attorney general to direct how the art will be handled from there.
Lamont made a brief statement to the court to express his remorse and to apologize for what he had done.
At the end of Thursday’s sentencing hearing, the additional charges against Lamont were withdrawn along with the charges against his 59-year-old female partner.
The six other people charged in the case are Morrisseau’s 53-year-old nephew Benjamin, a 51-year-old man, a 63-year-old woman, a 47-year-old Niagara-on-the-Lake man, a 75-year-old Locust Hill man and an 81-year-old Essa Township man.
They have yet to have their day in court.
Lamont already has a substantial criminal record.
He has previously been convicted of sexual assault and has been in custody since May 2022 on more sexual assault charges.
Lamont was sentenced last week in that case after pleading guilty to three counts of sexual assault.
He received two years less a day of incarceration on top of his time in presentencing custody.
His forgery sentence will be served concurrently with that sentence.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Norval Morrisseau was born in 1932 in Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek First Nation, in northwestern Ontario.
He was a residential school survivor who suffered physical and sexual abuse and left school at age 10.
Morrisseau was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1990 and passed away in 2007 at age 75.
In the 1960s, he started signing his artwork in Cree syllabics.
Morrisseau met a Toronto art dealer in 1962, who agreed to show his work.
It was the first time an Indigenous artist had an exhibit in a contemporary gallery.
All of the artwork sold out on the first day of the exhibition, skyrocketing Morrisseau into celebrity status.
Over his life, he received many awards, including the Order of Canada in 1978.
Other notable achievements include a 1989 Paris exhibition and a 2006 exhibit at the National Gallery of Canada, which led to a resurgence in his popularity.
This article was originally sourced from www.CTVNews.ca