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Feds: Gallery Owner Sold Fraudulent Art Prints

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CHICAGO (CBS) – A gallery owner in the posh River North art district stands charged with a selling counterfeit fine art prints by some of the most famous artists in the world, including Picasso, Dali and Chagall.

Alan Kass, 73, is owner and operator of the Kass/Meridian Gallery and Allegro Art, at 325 W. Huron St. Kass’ gallery advertises a collection of contemporary and modern 20th century prints by celebrity artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Miró, and even Andy Warhol.

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But a federal indictment says the gallery was actually dealing in knock-off reproductions rather than prints of originals, and charges Kass with taking in $480,000 by selling the prints as the real thing.

Kass is one of a dozen defendants now charged in Chicago in an investigation into the sale of fraudulent art prints.

Also charged Wednesday are Kass/Meridian employee Sawyer K. Cade, 47, who is also called “Alexander E. Swing” or “Xander Swing;” and art dealer John Panos, 64, of New York.

The indictment claims Kass knowingly acquired the knockoff art prints from Panos, who was a principal in the firm Equity Art Brokers and Prestige Art, and previously-charged co-schemer Michael Zabrin of Northbrook.

Panos personally forged the signatures of famous artists on certain phony prints, and distributed them to Kass and Zabrin, who knew about the scheme, the U.S. Attorney’s office alleges.

Panos allegedly forged the signatures of household-name artists including Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dali, and Pablo Picasso, among others, according to the indictment.

The indictment also claims Kass and Cade produced bogus “certificates of authenticity,” knowing the claims about the prints on the certificate were lies.

Kass is charged with 13 counts of mail and wire fraud, while Cade is charged with four counts of mail and wire fraud, Panos with one count of mail fraud.

Zabrin has already pleaded guilty to art fraud charges.

Each count of mail and wire fraud carries up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Kass/Meridian has been located in the River North neighborhood since 1986.

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