Laguna Men Arrested in Suspected Art Fraud

Ronald Bell

Ronald Bell

Two Laguna Beach residents were arrested for allegedly selling counterfeit Damien Hirst art works to international customers online, police announced Thursday.

The victims identified in the investigation claimed to have purchased pieces of Damien Hirst artwork via eBay or auction houses, Capt. Jason Kravetz said in a statement.  The pieces were later found to be fake reproductions; the artist signatures were forged as were the letters of authenticity accompanying the art, he said. Buyers resided in South Korea, Spain, the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands and Japan.

On Wednesday, Oct. 2, Laguna detectives and investigators with the Manhattan district attorney’s

Vincent Lopreto

Vincent Lopreto

office believe they disrupted the scheme and recovered evidence after serving search warrants at the Jazz Arts, 1452 S. Coast Highway, and the homes of gallery owners Ronald Bell, 49, and Vincent Lopreto, 48.

Investigators allege Lopreto was knowingly selling counterfeit art. Laguna detectives were asked to assist in the long distance investigation by witnessing the mailing of fraudulent artwork, conducting surveillances and authoring the search warrants, Kravetz said.

Inside the gallery, detectives located additional, apparently counterfeit Hirst pieces and blank paper used to print the artwork, implements used in making the reproductions along with fake certificates of authenticity and stamps purportedly used to show that the artwork were original Damien Hirst pieces, Kravetz said in a statement.

Bell and Lopreto are being held in county jail on fraud and identity theft charges. New York investigators will seek to extradite the partners.

Local victims are asked to come forward and report their incidents to detective Larry Bammer at [email protected] or via telephone at (949) 497-0368.




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