Fakes & copies

Serial faker, Vilas Likhite found guilty in Los Angeles

More bogus paintings are still out there, says LAPD

Vilas Likhite, an ex-Harvard professor and disgraced former doctor, has been found guilty of attempted theft in a county superior court in Los Angeles.

Likhite was arrested last year when he tried to sell a fake Mary Cassatt for $800,000 to an officer posing as a Korean businessman. It was not the only fake in Likhite’s 700-strong “collection”. After his arrest, works purportedly by Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, Hans Hofmann, Marie Laurencin along with a $28m “Brancusi” and a $48m “jade” Buddha were found in his possession.

Likhite had told prospective buyers that the art was worth up to $1 billion and that he wanted to sell without going through an auction house. Don Hrycyk of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Art Theft Detail told The Art Newspaper that the quality of the fakes was poor, but they were accompanied by certificates of authenticity issued in Australia. He named two suspects, Steven Byford and Paul Mazourek, who ran a business called Fine Art Investigation in Adelaide. “I would be interested in locating anyone who has had art authenticated or appraised by them,” said Detective Hrycyck.

Likhite had reported the “De Kooning” drawing stolen during a burglary, but it was recovered at the time of his arrest; he claimed it was worth $1.5m.

“There is more of Likhite’s ‘art’ still floating around, and an associate of Likhite named Richard Schwarz is in possession of some and has tried to sell it in the past. He lives in El Dorado Springs, Colorado. Likhite also has four storage units filled with art in Cambridge, Massachusetts; this art was not part of the LAPD criminal case and was not subject to seizure,” warned Detective Hrycyk, who added that “Likhite has had a long association with another suspect named Biagio ‘Luigi’ Cugini who has been in the news recently for allegedly selling fake art: a Picasso in New York as well as a fake Alberto Burri painting in Italy. Cugini lives in Maynard, Massachusetts. Both Likhite and Cugini were listed in a federal lawsuit in 1985 for selling $600,000 in fake art to art collectors Martin and Diane Ackerman in New York.”

Likhite lost his medical licence for gross misconduct in 1989, when he was also convicted of selling fake art. “He has not been sentenced yet, and is requesting a new trial and will try to appeal the jury’s verdict. He is also trying to get back all the fake art that was seized at the time of his arrest,” said Detective Hrycyk.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as: Serial faker found guilty in Los Angeles

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 170 June 2006