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Art Dealer Eric Spoutz Charged With Selling Dozens of Fakes of American Masters

A federal complaint accuses Eric Spoutz of selling dozens of fake pieces by artists like Willem de Kooning and Joan Mitchell using forged documents.
IMAGE: Eric Ian Spoutz and his wife in 2012
Eric Ian Spoutz and his wife, Natasha, then his fiancée, at their home in Harrison Township, Michigan, in 2012.Tom Watts / Macomb Daily — file

Eric Ian Spoutz, a well-known Michigan art dealer listed as the donor of paintings by American masters to numerous top galleries, was arrested Wednesday in Hollywood on a federal charge of selling forged artworks.

According to a federal complaint filed last week in New York, Spoutz, 32 — also known as Chad Smith, John Goodman and James Sinclair — sold dozens of works of art that he falsely claimed were by famous artists like Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Joan Mitchell, using forged documents to convince buyers of their authenticity.

Eric Ian Spoutz and his wife, Natasha, then his fiancée, at their home in Harrison Township, Michigan, in 2012.Tom Watts / Macomb Daily — file

He is charged with a single count of wire fraud and could face 20 years in prison if he's convicted. The complaint doesn't accuse Spoutz of having created the fakes, nor does it address who might have painted them.

Among the galleries and institutions with which Spoutz claims to have placed artworks are the Smithsonian Institution's National Museums of American Art and American History; Dartmouth College; the Library of Congress; the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum; George Washington University; the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction; and the Florida State Capital.

The complaint doesn't name specific pieces alleged to be fake, and not necessarily all or even most of the hundreds of pieces he's donated are under suspicion.

As recently as Sunday, Spoutz was claiming to have organized a collection of movie history photographs for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and he promoted that he was at the Academy in Hollywood last Friday. The Academy — whose website doesn't list any Spoutz-related pieces among its collections — didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

No attorney was listed for Spoutz, whose publicity materials include no contact information. A Wikipedia page for him was deleted on Jan. 21, and a Google+ profile appears to have been wiped clean, as well.

Spoutz — identified in the complaint under the full name of Eric Ian Hornak Spoutz — has claimed in publicity materials to be the nephew of Ian Hornak, the 20th-century American printmaker acclaimed as the father of the photorealism movement. Hornak died in 2002.

Spoutz's resumé says he was appointed as the executor for Hornak's estate in 2002, and many online listings of prominent art donations reflect that they are Hornak pieces donated by Erik I. Spoutz, Chad Smith and Rosemary Hornak. Prosecutors said Smith is one of Spoutz's aliases; Rosemary was the name of a sister of Hornak's.

Diego Rodriguez, the FBI's assistant director in charge for New York, said Spoutz "created an entire world of fiction to make a profit."

Spoutz "created an entire world of fiction to make a profit."

"The only real thing in this situation seems to be the financial losses the victims have incurred for purchasing what they thought were true works of art, whether for investment purposes or personal enjoyment," Rodriguez said.

In a 2012 profile in the Macomb Daily, a Detroit-area newspaper, Spoutz said he got the art bug in 2001 on a high school senior trip to the Smithsonian's National Museums of American Art and American History, both of which have received donations from him.

"My intentions as an art dealer are more academic than personal," Spoutz told the newspaper. "As an art dealer, it allows me to see what comes to the market. I bridge the gap between conventional art and academics."

A decade ago, Spoutz posted a book review on The book was "Fake: Forgery, Lies, & eBay," by Kenneth Walton.

Spoutz faulted the author for failing "to take responsibility for his crimes." He called the book "sociopathic, self-indulgent [and] unapologetic."