By Bill Parry
A formerLong Island City foundry owner admitted to trying to sell phony knockoffs of famed artist Jasper Johns’ classic 1960 “Flag” piece for $11 million.
Brian Ramnarine, 59, pleaded guilty in a plea agreement on Monday with prosecutors less than a week after his trial began in Manhattan federal court.
“It became imminently clear that the government had an overwhelming amount of evidence, so he decided to admit his responsibility,” his attorney Troy Smith said. “He recognized that it was his best option.”
Ramnarine made his decision just days after the 83-year-old artist testified. “Certainly, Jasper Johns’ testimony had something to do with it, but others had significant testimony as well, and no, it didn’t surprise me,” Smith said.
Ramnarine, the owner of Empire Bronze Art Foundry, pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud after he attempted to sell Johns’ work as well as the sculptures of two other artists. The deal calls for a prison sentence of eight to 10 years, but that will be decided by Manhattan Federal Court Judge John Keltl May 30.
Johns testified that he had commissioned Ramnarine in 1990 to make a wax mold of his metallic collage for the creation of a gold version. Ramnarine refused to return the mold and used it to create copies in the early 1990s that he tried to sell as originals, prosecutors said.
Ramnarine’s attorneys claimed their client was told he could keep the mold by Johns’ longtime assistant, James Meyer, who is also accused of stealing artwork from Johns.
“Flag” was once owned by best-selling author Michael Crichton, who wrote “The Andromeda Strain.” After his death in 2008, the masterpiece sold at auction for $28.6 million.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718.260.4538.