Sentenced in Fake-Pollock Scam

John D. Re gets five years from federal judge for bilking unwary buyers
John D. Re of East Hampton, pictured during a 2006 trip in a refurbished submarine, was sentenced to five years in federal prison.

John Darren Re of East Hampton, accused by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of passing off over 60 worthless paintings to wealthy buyers as made by Jackson Pollock, was sentenced on Tuesday, his 55th birthday, to five years in federal prison. Mr. Re pleaded guilty in December to a single count of wire fraud.

In pronouncing his sentence, United States District Judge P. Kevin Castel accepted the probation officer's recommendation that the prison term exceed the three to four years agreed upon between Mr. Re’s attorney, Annalisa Miron, and federal prosecutors. He could have sentenced the defendant to up to 20 years.

Upon his release, Mr. Re will spend three more years under monitored supervision. He was also ordered to pay $2.5 million to the government, and over $2 million more in restitution to his victims. The government is seizing the Deep Quest, a submarine-like craft Mr. Re once maintained had cost him over half a million dollars.

The F.B.I. charged that Mr. Re started selling fake Pollocks in 2001. He based his operation in Manhattan, according to court documents, but used an East Hampton provenance to convince potential buyers that the paintings were real, claiming they had been discovered in the Spring Close Highway basement of George Schulte, a restorer of antiques, after Mr. Schulte’s death.

 Included among the court documents was a letter to the judge from one of the duped buyers. John Szemansco wrote that he had lost his life savings, several million dollars, and that trusting Mr. Re was “the worst decision of my life.” He added that he is past retirement age but has had to return to work, fighting off foreclosure. He rents out rooms in his house to make ends meet, he wrote.

Mr. Re told the court in December that “sometime not too long before 2005, I acquired artwork that I bought in a storage unit in Manhattan. I was not given any information as to the origin of the artwork from the storage unit manager. Being a woodworker at the time, I had several people with expertise view the artwork. They told me that it was possibly attributed to Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning.”

“Previous to that, I had been employed at a shop that was previously owned by George Schulte before he had died in 1996, of East Hampton, Springs, New York, who I thought possibly knew Jackson Pollock in the late ’40s and early ’50s.”

 “Your Honor, I’m not going to sit here and claim that making up the Schulte provenance was out of ignorance. It was out of arrogance, and my misconduct has brought shame to my family and myself, and I hurt other people.”

Mr. Re is due to be sentenced next month in State Supreme Court, Riverside, on a different charge, a felony count of failing to pay state taxes. He pleaded guilty to that charge in February.

After sentence was pronounced Tuesday he was taken to the Manhattan Correctional Center to begin serving his term. He will be sent to another federal facility shortly.