Three Men Charged With Scheming To Create and Sell False Works of Art and Memorabilia

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

CHICAGO — Two brothers from Michigan were among three men indicted on federal fraud charges for allegedly scheming to create and sell false works of art and memorabilia.

An indictment unsealed today in U.S. District Court in Chicago accuses DONALD HENKEL of altering and applying false autographs or signatures to paintings and memorabilia, including sports, Hollywood, and music collectibles, to make the items appear genuine or more valuable to potential buyers, including art galleries, auction houses, and individuals.  The indictment alleges that Donald Henkel falsely added signatures of artists such as Ralston Crawford and George Ault to paintings that he knew were not created by those artists, and then schemed with his brother, MARK HENKEL, and others to fraudulently present the works as genuine.  Donald Henkel and bogus “straw sellers” recruited by Mark Henkel allegedly provided a false provenance, or history, for numerous items, including a painting by Gertrude Abercrombie and baseballs or bats purportedly signed by Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Cy Young, as a means to falsely portray the items as genuine to potential buyers.  One of the alleged straw sellers – RAYMOND PAPARELLA – schemed to conceal the Henkels’ involvement with the items in an effort to pass them off as genuine, the indictment states.

The alleged fraud scheme began in 2005 and continued until 2020.  Many of the forged items were sold for more than $100,000 based on the false histories provided by the Henkels or the straw sellers, the indictment states.

The indictment charges mail fraud or wire fraud against Donald Henkel, 61, of Cedar, Mich., Mark Henkel, 66, of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Paparella, 59, of Boca Raton, Fla.  Mark Henkel faces an additional charge of witness tampering for allegedly corruptly persuading a co-schemer to make a false statement to law enforcement.

The three defendants pleaded not guilty today during arraignments in federal court in Chicago.

The indictment was announced by John R. Lausch, Jr., United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois; and Emmerson Buie, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago Field Office of the FBI.  Valuable assistance was provided by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan, and FBI Field Offices in Detroit, Mich., and Miami, Fla.  The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ashley A. Chung.

The public is reminded that an indictment is not evidence of guilt.  The defendants are presumed innocent and entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  Each count in the indictment is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison.  If convicted, the Court must impose a reasonable sentence under federal statutes and the advisory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines.