PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - An Oregon man confessed to faking works created by well-known artists and selling some of the knockoffs to a gallery owner.
“I wasn’t in it for the money; I was having fun,” Larry Ulvi, 74, told a federal judge Wednesday after pleading guilty to mail fraud. “And now I’m paying for it.”
Ulvi, an ex-smoker with an oxygen tube inserted in his nose, remains free until his Nov. 4 sentencing.
Authorities arrested Ulvi in March after a search of his northwest Portland apartment yielded 160 fake paintings and sketches, most of them copies of work done by Mark Tobey. The abstract painter who died in 1976 was part of the Northwest School art movement.
Investigators also found a sheet of paper that had been used to practice the signatures of Tobey and another Northwest School artist, Kenneth Callahan.
According to court documents, Ulvi approached a California gallery owner with the initials W.K. in May 2013 and offered to sell work supposedly done by Tobey. The gallery owner paid $9,000 for three paintings, much less than what original Tobey works would fetch.
The gallery owner soon bought another half-dozen forgeries. When Ulvi offered three more paintings, the owner became suspicious that one man could own so many Tobey works.
The owner contacted Heiner Hachmeister, an expert on Tobey’s art. Hachmeister advised that the paintings were knockoffs. The expert had said the same thing to a Seattle dealer solicited by Ulvi in 2011 and 2012.
Mail fraud carries a maximum penalty of 20 years, but U.S. District Judge Robert Jones assured Ulvi he won’t get anywhere near that much time when sentenced in November. In the meantime, he will await a pre-sentence report on Ulvi’s background and conduct.
“I’m really interested in how you got into this situation - this abstract painting, which I don’t give a hoot for but other people do,” the judge said.
As is standard when accepting a guilty plea, the judge reminded Ulvi of his right to a trial.
Ulvi said he was “too old and tired to go through all that.”
“You’re just a youngster,” quipped the 88-year-old judge.
Follow Steven DuBois at twitter.com/pdxdub
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