An Italian art distributor was sentenced Wednesday in federal court in Chicago to nine months in prison for selling fake “limited edition” prints of legendary painters such as Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso as part of an international fraud ring.
Elio Bonfiglioli, 62, was given credit for about six months he had already spent in custody, so he has about three more months to serve.
The lanky Bonfiglioli, his gray hair thinning, listened to the proceedings with the assistance of an Italian interpreter.
U.S. District Judge Robert Dow Jr. also ordered that he pay restitution of $14,750 to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
Bonfiglioli had pleaded guilty in May to a single count of wire fraud. Prosecutors had sought about four to five years in prison, while Bonfiglioli’s attorney asked that his client be sentenced to time served and be allowed to return to his home in Tuscany, Italy.
Bonfiglioli had been a fugitive since 2009 after failing to turn himself in to authorities in Spain, where he was living at the time, to be extradited to the U.S. to face 10 counts of mail and wire fraud.
Two years earlier, he had been charged as part of a scheme that made headlines after federal authorities raided the well-known Kass/Meridian Gallery on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile and confiscated sales records and prints.
According to the charges, Bonfiglioli and several other European art distributors conspired to create bogus prints of sought-after 20th century artists, including Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol and Joan Miro. In many cases, the prints “bore false numerical or other markings” to make them appear to be part of a limited-edition release, according to the indictment.
The artists’ signatures were also forged, and the prints often included fictitious certificates of authenticity, the indictment said.
Bonfiglioli then sold the fake prints to art dealers, including Michael Zabrin of Northbrook, who “knowingly sold the counterfeit work to various wholesale and retail customers,” the indictment alleged.
Zabrin, who had already been convicted of a similar scheme in the early 1990s, began cooperating with the investigation after authorities confronted him in 2006, records show.
Zabrin told authorities he knowingly bought forged art from Bonfiglioli since before 1999, according to a recent court filing by prosecutors. Bank records showed that Zabrin wired about $245,000 to Bonfiglioli from 1999 to 2006, prosecutors said.
The probe eventually ensnared a dozen defendants, including Alan Kass, whose gallery in the 300 block of West Huron Street was raided by agents in 2008. Kass pleaded guilty in 2013 to selling phony artwork to hundreds of unsuspecting buyers and was sentenced to six months in prison.
Zabrin, meanwhile, pleaded guilty in 2011 to scamming at least 250 people out of more than $1 million in counterfeit prints and was sentenced to nine years in prison.