This past week, the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York issued an arrest warrant for Christian Rosa, a once up and coming artist himself of the longstanding forgery scheme of impersonating his mentor Raymond Pettibon’s artwork. A grand jury indicted Rosa on wire fraud conspiracy, wire fraud, and aggravated identity theft for “completing” Pettibon’s four unfinished pieces and contacting buyers to sell these unnamed works. Pettibon’s paintings have valued for over $1million and earned him widespread popularity in the 80s and 90s for his comic book style artwork and his use of pop culture in his artistry. Rosa’s own work has been valued anywhere from $30,000–$300,000 making him a name in the art world himself and enabling him to sell the Pettibon’s forgeries with credibility. The charges all carry sentences from 2–20 years, reflecting the complex nature of prosecuting art forgery crimes under federal statute.
Art forgeries are most commonly prosecuted under 18 U.S.C.A. § 1343 which carries a maximum 20 year sentence for fraud conspiracy and wire fraud where the forger has “devised or [intended] to devise a scheme” to defraud by means of “fraudulent pretenses.” Such fraudulent pretenses must be communicated or transferred in interstate or foreign commerce to fall under federal jurisdiction. The SDNY indictment outlines Rosa’s elaborate scheme which was communicated over email and cellphone to bring in buyers for Pettibon’s unnamed works, fulfilling the interstate commerce requirement, to sell the forged artwork with fake certificates of authenticity. While § 1343 is not specific to art crimes nor forgeries in general, the statute covers the scope of such fraudulent sales across state lines such as the conspiracy Rosa engaged in.
While fraud carries the harshest sentence amongst the charges, to the layman, art forgery sounds more like aggravated identity theft under 18 U.S.C.A. § 1028A, a charge that carries a mandatory sentence of 2 years for a general offense. The indictment states that Rosa’s use of the Pettibon’s name and signature to create the fake certificates of authentic constituted aggravated identity theft. It is interesting to note, that the forged artwork itself under this particular charge does not count as Pettibon’s identity, and it is the certificate that implicates Rosa. The artist’s work, medium, and style themselves do not count as identifying characteristics under this prosecution scheme even though those very qualities are used to distinguish forgeries from authentic pieces of art.
Rosa’s case and the indictment illustrates how charging art forgery under federal statute involves crimes that are necessarily implicated when an artist forges and profits off of fake artwork. Prosecutors do not bring any art specific charges as there are with other crimes and such a violation falls under the broad category of fraud. The forger and individual assisting with the distribution of the forgery would all be charged under 18 U.S.C.A. § 1343. The indictment does in fact mention Co-Conspirator 1 though it is unclear whether that person has been charged as well. Rosa fled the country earlier this year and has been avoiding arrest, but the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York said they will find him through the “long arm of the law.”
Sarah Cascone, The FBI Has Busted Once-Rising Artist Christian Rosa for Selling Forged Paintings Purportedly by His Former Mentor Raymond Pettibon, Art Net News (October 14, 2021), https://news.artnet.com/news-pro/wet-paint-oct-14-2020875.
Ed Shanahan, U.S. Charges Once-Rising Artist With Selling Raymond Pettibon Forgeries, NY Times (October 14, 2021), https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/14/nyregion/raymond-pettibon-christian-rosa.html.
 18 U.S.C.A. § 1343.
Indictment at 6, United States v. Weinberger, [no court reporter] (2021) (No. USA–33s–274).
 18 U.S.C.A. § 1028A.