Escondido Man Admits Role in ‘Elaborate' Million Dollar Art-Forgery Fraud

The forged art included paintings of a black-silhouetted figure known as the Shadowman, which was a recurring motif in artist Richard Hambleton’s works (top). The series of photographs at the bottom were obtained by law enforcement from Harrington’s files and depict a forgery in progress.
Office of the U.S. Attorney, Southern District of the California

An Escondido man pleaded guilty on Monday to a federal wire fraud charge of selling $1.1 million of forged artworks he claimed were created by acclaimed artist Richard Hambleton.

Jason Harrington, 38, admitted to selling forgeries to at least 15 galleries and individuals between 2018-20, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Prosecutors allege Harrington gave prospective buyers fake letters from people who said they obtained the artworks, in which they claimed to have received the pieces from Hambleton himself. On one occasion, Harrington had a person speak directly with a buyer and make similar claims about obtaining art from Hambleton.

“Mr. Harrington created multiple fake paintings, devised elaborate cover stories to authenticate them, targeted unsuspecting buyers, and sold over a million dollars of forged artwork,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Suzanne Turner is quoted in a news release that went out on Monday. “Fraudulent and forged artwork degrades the integrity and trust within the art community and today’s guilty plea should send a clear message - the FBI will aggressively pursue those who use fraud schemes to make a living, regardless of the type of instrument used to commit the fraud.”

Harrington also photoshopped pictures to make it seem like the people who obtained the artworks personally knew or met with Hambleton, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

Hambleton, who died in 2017, was known in part for his "Shadowman'' paintings, and many of Harrington's forgeries were copies of Hambleton's Shadowman pieces.

The U.S. Attorney's Office also alleges Harrington tried to sell at least one forged painting that he claimed was made by portraitist Barkley Hendricks. Harrington claimed to be an art gallery owner and said he inherited the painting from his uncle, but the gallery at which he attempted to sell the fake later declined after Hendricks' widow viewed the painting and informed them it was forged.

As part of his plea, Harrington has agreed to pay at least $1,124,001.22 in restitution.

He's slated to be sentenced Oct. 22.

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