LOS ANGELES — A West Hollywood man has agreed to plead guilty to federal criminal charges that he sold bogus art he claimed was created by artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol. He also admitted using fake paintings as collateral for loans on which he later defaulted, and using fraudulent pieces for fraudulent write-offs on his income tax returns.
Philip Righter, 43, was charged on March 10 in United States District Court with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and tax fraud. In a plea agreement also filed today, Righter agreed to plead guilty to the three felony offenses.
In total, Righter’s scheme attempted to bilk victims out of well over $6 million, and he caused losses of at least $758,265. Additionally, his fraudulent tax returns cost the United States more than $100,000, according to the plea agreement.
From 2016 until June 2018, Righter executed a scheme to defraud people, businesses and the United States by using counterfeit and fraudulent art that he asserted was genuine. Righter supported these false claims with fraudulent provenance – or chronology-of-origin – documents that he had created.
Before August 2016, Righter generally conducted these fraudulent transactions in his own name. But after the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department interviewed him about bogus Keith Haring art he attempted to sell to a Miami art gallery, Righter began using the names of other people to execute his scheme, court documents state.
In order to make the fake artwork appear authentic, Righter ordered and used embossing stamps that appeared similar to the authentic stamps used by the estates of Basquiat and Haring authentic art by these artists. Righter admitted he used these stamps on provenance documents that he created and were later used to deceive his victims into believing the artwork was legitimate.
For example, Righter fraudulently used without authorization the name and signature of Gerard Basquiat – father and previous administrator of the artist’s estate – on fraudulent provenance documents, court documents state. Righter also falsely used the identifications of the estates of Basquiat and Haring, falsely used the names of these two artists, and falsely used the name of a legitimate gallery where Basquiat art was previously sold.
In furtherance of the scheme, Righter obtained and attempted to obtain numerous loans by using the fraudulent art and accompanying fraudulent provenance documents. For example, in October 2016, using another person’s name, Righter contacted a victim about a loan in which a purported original drawing by Basquiat would be used as collateral. Righter created a fraudulent certificate of authentication letter that purportedly came from Basquiat’s estate. The victim wired a $24,000 loan, on which Righter later defaulted. After Righter’s default, the victim attempted to auction the piece, but the auction house determined the piece was fraudulent, and the victim lost $24,000.
Righter also sold or attempted to sell numerous pieces of fake modern art. In August 2017, using another person’s name, Righter listed a purported 1983 piece of art by Basquiat with the word “Samo” written on it with an art sale website and he provided fake provenance documents. The website sold the piece for $50,000. In 2018, after the piece was determined to be fraudulent, the website had to refund the purchase price to the buyer.
Righter also admitted that he knowingly and willfully included a false W-2 and a false donation of fraudulent art to a charity on his 2015 federal income tax return, which resulted in him fraudulently receiving a refund of $54,858. Righter then signed and filed a false 2015 amended tax return, which claimed a false casualty and theft loss of $2,575,000 related to artwork he claimed had been stolen. In truth, the artwork was fraudulent and had no value. This bogus amended tax return resulted in false carryback loss refunds for 2012, 2013 and 2014 totaling $52,485, according to court documents.
Once he enters guilty pleas to the three charges, Righter will face a statutory maximum sentence of 25 years in federal prison.
Righter also currently faces charges in the Southern District of Florida for an approximately $1 million attempted art fraud on the Miami gallery. A hearing in that case is scheduled for March 11.
The FBI’s Art Crime Team, the Los Angeles Police Department, and IRS Criminal Investigation investigated this matter.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Mark A. Williams and Erik M. Silber of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section.
Petition Circulating to Ask Judge to Keep Ed Buck in Jail
LOS ANGELES — On the eve of the one year incarceration of Democratic donor and activist Ed Buck in the deaths of two Black gay men, Justice 4 Gemmel and All of Ed Buck’s Victims has begun gathering signatures for a petition calling upon Magistrate Judge Rozella A. Oliver to deny bail to Buck.
The petition comes after Ed Buck, 65, petitioned the court arguing that he is at higher risk for contracting COVID-19 while in jail due to his age and because he says he suffers from gum disease and needs specialized cardiac care.
“Nah. He says he has gum disease and a heart issue. So then while in jail, he needs to watch what he eats, brush his teeth at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste, floss and use some mouthwash,” said Jasmyne Cannick who advocated for Buck’s arrest. “He might also consider not engaging in any type of physical activity that would excite him. The bottom line is that he’s a danger to Black men at any age–COVID or no COVID. He was in his 60s when Gemmel and Timothy died so he should not be allowed to use his age now to get out of jail.”
Buck is awaiting trial on charges of supplying illegal drugs to two men who overdosed and died inside of his West Hollywood apartment within a year and a half of each other.
Ed Buck’s attorneys have said that he would sign a $400,000 appearance bond, surrender his passport, and would agree to electronic monitoring if released.
Buck is charged with nine federal counts–including one count alleging that he knowingly enticed 26-year-old Gemmel Moore to travel to the Los Angeles area to engage in sex work and provided him methamphetamine who overdosed on the drug and died on July 27, 2017. Buck also is charged with another count of enticing another man to travel with the intent of engaging in prostitution. On January 7, 2019, Timothy Dean died of a methamphetamine overdose in Ed Buck’s apartment.
After his arrest last year on Sep. 17, a federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment charging that Buck “engaged in a pattern of soliciting men to consume drugs that Buck provided and perform sexual acts at Buck’s apartment,” which is a practice described as “party and play.” Buck allegedly solicited victims on social media platforms, including a gay dating website, and used a recruiter to scout and proposition men.
Buck also faces charges, including operating a drug house, that were filed last year by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Cannick continued, “Even if the courts mandated that Buck cannot use a computer, fly people into town, or use social media dating sites, there is nothing in his history to indicate that Buck would change his previous behavior that led to the deaths of two men and the near-death of countless others. Nothing.”
Ms. Cannick also shared that many of Buck’s victims have contacted her and are concerned about their safety should Ed Buck be released.
“I’m disturbed and devastated,” added Joann Campbell, sister of Timothy Dean. “The thought of this dangerous man– who I believe killed my brother– even being considered for bail is outrageous. I am pleading to the judge to hold Ed Buck in jail until his trial. He is responsible for two deaths in his apartment. My brother and Gemmel Moore are dead because of Buck. This is a slap in the face to our families. He is a dangerous man and will most likely kill again if let out. Please keep him behind bars. I’m afraid for Black gay men in Los Angeles if he is released.”
“Ed Buck’s previous history shows he is a danger,” said LaTisha Nixon, the mother of Gemmel Moore. “After Gemmel was killed we warned that another person would end up dead if he wasn’t arrested and Buck did not prove us wrong as Timothy Dean was killed just a year and a half later. We repeatedly told authorities Ed Buck was out of control and still after my son and Timothy Dean died, he was up to his old tricks and attempted to fatally overdose another man. If he is released he will continue to prey upon Black gay men. Ed Buck is a menace and deserves to be held in custody to ensure that no other person is killed by Ed Buck.”
“I am just speechless as well as restless just thinking of what will happen next–who will be the next to die–if Ed Buck is released from jail,” said Joyce Jackson, sister of Timothy Dean.
Cannick concluded with, “I am all for bail reform, but people like Ed Buck should not be the beneficiaries of the bail reform movement.”
The petition will be delivered to the Magistrate Judge and to federal prosecutors at the September 25 hearing in Los Angeles. Anyone interested can sign the petition here.
Feds Charge Local Man in $410M Medical Fraud Scheme
GEORGIA — A California man who operated a durable medical equipment (DME) company has been charged for his alleged participation in a massive healthcare fraud scheme. The defendant is the 22nd charged in the Southern District of Georgia as part of an investigation that uncovered more than $410 million in fraudulent claims to Medicare, the largest fraud case in the history of the Southern District of Georgia.
Scott M. Hirsch, the operator of JI Medical, Inc., a company formerly based on the Miracle Mile in the City of Los Angeles, is accused of conspiring to pay kickbacks in exchange for obtaining orders for DME that JI Medical, Inc. would then bill to Medicare. As part of this scheme, the physicians receiving the kickbacks from JI Medical, Inc. knowingly signed false medical records describing “consultations” of Medicare patients.
Research shows that JI Medical operated under the name RAMAT Medical at 5812 West Pico Blvd.
“Telemedicine is an important tool for legitimate providers – but paying kickbacks is not part of telemedicine and will not be tolerated under any circumstances,” said U.S. Attorney Bobby L. Christine. “While many of our prosecutors and law enforcement partners may be working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, this office continues to work day and night to bring bad actors to justice.”
The healthcare fraud scheme charged is the largest in the history of the Southern District of Georgia. Previous charges in this string of cases include eight physicians, two nurse practitioners, two operators of telemedicine companies, and two brokers of patient data. The Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries whose identities were used as part of the scheme are located throughout the Southern District of Georgia, including the Augusta, Brunswick, Dublin, Savannah, Statesboro, and Waycross Divisions, as well as elsewhere in the United States.
The $410 million fraud scheme charged in the Southern District of Georgia is part of nationwide operations by the Department of Justice that thus far has halted a multi-billion dollar fraud network involving fraudulent claims for genetic testing, orthotic braces, pain creams, and other items.
“The growing number of medical providers and equipment providers alleged to have been involved in this ongoing scheme is disheartening,” said Chris Hacker, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Atlanta. “The FBI and our federal partners will continue to root out such deceitful practices and protect taxpayers and the citizens who deserve the benefits from programs like Medicare, even as telemedicine becomes more common.”
“This investigation is a stellar example of inter-agency cooperation and working together to bring those who defraud the health care system to justice,” said FBI Birmingham Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp Jr. “The public can be assured that the FBI and our partners will continue to seek to identify and pursue investigations against such egregious offenders.”
“In these trying times, it’s more important than ever that we safeguard the Medicare trust fund,” said Derrick L. Jackson, Special Agent in Charge at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Inspector General in Atlanta. “HHS/OIG, along with our partners, will vigorously pursue any provider who puts their own financial gain above that of their patients.”
“Cases of this magnitude can only be tackled using a strategy that recognizes that the most effective way to fight these large criminal networks is by combining the strengths, resources, and expertise of our federal agencies,” said Resident Agent in Charge Glen M. Kessler of the U.S. Secret Service. “Our nation’s healthcare system cannot tolerate kickbacks to physicians and pharmacies while criminals line their pockets with taxpayer funded healthcare dollars.”
“The U.S. Postal Inspection Service aggressively conducts investigations of those who fraudulently use the U.S. Mail to facilitate complex fraud schemes,” said Inspector in Charge Joseph W. Cronin of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service’s Boston Division. “We will continue to support and work with our federal law enforcement partners to stop those who are engaged in these types of fraudulent activities and defend the U.S. Mail from criminal misuse.”
“The defendant in this case used the U.S. Mail to facilitate his elaborate criminal scheme. Postal Inspectors partnered with other agencies to quickly identify the scheme and worked aggressively with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to dismantle this criminal enterprise. Through cases like these, the Postal Inspection Service upholds its longstanding mission of protecting the public and preventing criminal misuse of the U.S. Mail,” said Antonio J. Gomez, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service – Miami Division.
Indictments or criminal informations contain only charges; defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
This investigation is ongoing. As telemedicine becomes an increasing part of our healthcare system, vigilance in ensuring that fraud and kickbacks do not usurp the legitimate practice of medicine by electronic means is more important than ever. If you are aware of any fraud or kickbacks relating to telemedicine, including COVID-19 fraud, please call the FBI hotline at 1-800-CALL-FBI.
This particular prosecution resulted from a joint investigation of multiple agencies and offices. U.S. Attorney Christine acclaimed the hard work of the investigatory team, led by FBI – Savannah, FBI – Birmingham, the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General, the United States Secret Service, and the United States Postal Inspection Service.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys J. Thomas Clarkson and Jonathan A. Porter are prosecuting these cases on behalf of the United States.
Century City Mall Murder Suspect Arrested in Baltimore
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Police Department’s Operations West Bureau (OWB) Homicide investigators have announced the arrest of a suspect in a murder that took place at the Century City Mall.
On January 20, 2020, West Los Angeles Division officers responded to a call of a shooting in progress at the Century City Mall. Upon their arrival, officers found a victim down and unresponsive.
The investigation revealed that a fight involving the suspect had occurred outside of a nearby restaurant. The fight involving the suspect stemmed from another dispute inside of the same restaurant. During the fight, the suspect armed himself and shot the victim to death. Investigators from OWB Homicide identified Brandon Hinton as the suspect. It was determined that Brandon Hinton had fled the area and a murder warrant was issued.
On March 16, 2020, Federal Bureau of Investigations Fugitive Task Force agents in Baltimore, Maryland located and arrested Hinton.
On Friday, April 10, 2020, LAPD-FBI Fugitive Task Force agents extradited 26-year-old Brandon Hinton to Los Angeles to face murder charges. Hinton was booked on a four-million-dollar murder warrant and will be arraigned this week.
Anyone with information, including possible additional victims, are urged to call Los Angeles Police Department’s Operations West Bureau homicide investigators at (213) 382-9470. During non-business hours or on weekends, calls should be directed to 1-877-LAPD-24-7 (877-527-3247).
Anyone wishing to remain anonymous should call the LA Regional Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (800-222-8477) or go directly to www.lacrimestoppers.org. Tipsters may also visit www.lapdonline.org and click on “Anonymous Web Tips” under the “Get Involved-Crime Stoppers” menu to submit an online tip. Lastly, tipsters may also download the “P3 Tips” mobile application and select the LA Regional Crime Stoppers as their local program.
Petition Circulating to Ask Judge to Keep Ed Buck in Jail
RAGE is Latest Venue to Fall Victim to the Pandemic
Koretz Won’t Back ‘Uplift Melrose’ Plan
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Beverly Grove Man Charged for COVID Relief Loan Fraud
County Hospitals Receive 300 iPads for Patients to See Family
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This Just In…
- Petition Circulating to Ask Judge to Keep Ed Buck in Jail
- RAGE is Latest Venue to Fall Victim to the Pandemic
- Koretz Won’t Back ‘Uplift Melrose’ Plan
- Man Sentenced for Hit-and-Run Death of Pedestrian on Sunset
- Beverly Grove Man Charged for COVID Relief Loan Fraud
- County Hospitals Receive 300 iPads for Patients to See Family
- Processions to Cedars Will Salute Healthcare Workers on National Nurses Day