Unfinished Jasper Johns paintings stolen, sold in multimillion-dollar fraud scheme

Story highlights

  • DA accuses James Meyer of stealing 22 pieces of unfinished art from a studio file drawer
  • The works were sold by a Manhattan gallery for $6.5 million, the DA says
  • Meyer was a studio assistant for Johns for more than 25 years
A former studio assistant to American artist Jasper Johns is accused of stealing and selling pieces of Johns' art in a multimillion-dollar scheme.
James Meyer, 51 of Salisbury, Connecticut, allegedly stole 22 pieces of unfinished art from a studio file drawer he was responsible for maintaining in a Sharon, Connecticut, art studio. He then provided them to a Manhattan art gallery for sale, according to a news release from the U.S. district attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Between 2006 and 2012, Meyer also provided sworn, notarized certifications to the gallery that the pieces were authentic Johns works and said that he had been given each of them as a gift from Johns, according to the news release.
The 22 pieces were sold by the Manhattan gallery for $6.5 million, of which $3.4 million went to Meyer, who was arrested Wednesday and is charged with one count of interstate transportation of stolen property and one count of wire fraud.
Meyer was a studio assistant for Johns for more than 25 years and was responsible for maintaining a drawer of unfinished works. These pieces of art were not authorized to be sold by Johns, according to the U.S. attorney's office.
"As alleged, James Meyer exploited his position of trust to steal repeatedly from his long-time employer. That his employer is a renowned American artist only made the crime more lucrative" George Venizelos, FBI assistant director-in-charge of the New York field office, said Thursday.
Interstate transportation of stolen property carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, while wire fraud carries a maximum sentence of 20.
Johns rose to prominence as an American contemporary artist in the middle of the 20th century. His works can be seen in many museums, including the National Gallery of Art.
Among his best-known paintings are "Flag," a depiction of the American flag, and "False Start," a mix of various colors along with stenciled names of colors.
In 2011 Johns was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which honors the "especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors."