Art dealer acquitted of knowingly selling fakes


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(12-21) 15:44 PST SAN FRANCISCO -- A longtime art dealer at San Francisco's Union Square was acquitted Tuesday of knowingly selling fake prints of paintings by Joan Miró.

Pasquale Iannetti, who ran a Sutter Street gallery bearing his name for 37 years, said he had been unaware he was selling counterfeit prints. A federal court jury in San Francisco found him not guilty of 15 felony counts of mail and wire fraud after 2 1/2 days of deliberations.

Iannetti, 70, was indicted by a federal grand jury in August 2009 for allegedly shipping counterfeit prints that bore the name of Miró, the Spanish painter and sculptor known for his surrealist and expressionist works.

Federal prosecutors accused Iannetti - whose website describes him as an "experienced fine art appraiser and authenticator of works" - of cheating customers by selling paintings he knew were fakes.

The grand jury indictment charged him with fraudulently selling seven fake paintings from 2005 to 2008 for as much as $17,902. They were advertised as "limited edition" works, signed by the artist and prepared from an impression Miró made or supervised.

Two postal agents testified that Iannetti admitted he knew the paintings were fakes when they searched his gallery in 2008. Iannetti's lawyer denied that his client had confessed and said the agents had twisted Iannetti's words.

Iannetti said he had been taken in by his supplier, Elio Bonfiglioli, who has been indicted in a separate art fraud case in Illinois. Bonfiglioli is a fugitive.

"He didn't know that these things were counterfeit when he sold them," defense lawyer Alan Dressler said after the verdict.

The prosecution presented evidence of a December 2007 phone call, wiretapped by Italian police, in which Bonfiglioli told Iannetti that two of his associates had been carrying counterfeit art when authorities stopped them in Spain.

But Dressler said Iannetti had then asked Bonfiglioli if any of the Miró prints he supplied were counterfeit, and that Bonfiglioli assured him they were genuine.

Iannetti closed his gallery shortly after he was indicted but is still selling art from his office and his trying to rebuild his career and his reputation, Dressler said.

"He still has a loyal following," the attorney said.

E-mail Bob Egelko at begelko@sfchronicle.com.


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