A prominent Long Island City gallery owner has pleaded guilty to defrauding wealthy art collectors by selling worthless and unauthorized sculptures which he claimed were genuine originals.
Brian Ramnarine, of 98th Place in Rego Park, took a plea deal last week which will spare him from serving any prison time.
The owner of the Bronze Foundry and Gallery, located at 25-20 43rd Avenue, Ramnarine pleaded guilty last Thursday to falsifying business records, a felony.
Queens Supreme Court Judge James Griffin is expected to sentence Ramnarine, a native of Guyana, to five years probation and order him to pay $100,000 in restitution when he is formally sentenced on April 25th.
He had originally faced charges of grand larceny, scheming to defraud and criminal simulation. The counts could have landed him 15 years in prison if he was convicted.
“He has admitted that he defrauded the victims and cheated the artists who created these works,” said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.
According to the charges, from March through August of 1998, Ramnarine—a skilled craftsman with a reputation in the casting of bronze sculptures—criminally manipulated artworks by three internationally known sculptors to make them appear more authentic to buyers.
He would then make additional copies, beyond the number ordered by the sculptors who commissioned the castings, and sell them to private collectors, keeping the profits for himself.
Brown said that in one of his schemes, Ramnarine attempted to settle a past debt with Bayside collector Jerome Nafthol.
The foundry owner allegedly offered Nafthol nine sculptures from postmodern artists Joel Fisher and Kenny Scharf, including his well-known piece, “Bird in Space.” The works were eventually found to be unauthorized duplicates.
In another case, Ramnarine allegedly sold a New Jersey art collector three unauthorized reproductions which he had cast to look like works from Brazilian sculptor Saint Clair Cemin.
In total, prosecutors said Ramnarine scammed his customers out of $140,000.
However, Ramnarine’s clientele may not be the only ones the gallery owner has defrauded.
Several ex-foundry employees have come forward, claiming that their former boss stiffed them on their paychecks for years and borrowed thousands to keep the gallery open.
Miro Krizek, 57, and her husband, Joseph, 63, worked at the foundry making mold castings from 1997 through February of 2002.
Early in their tenure at the gallery, she claims the company’s paycheck would often bounce. When she would complain, Krizek said her boss would promise to pay them “as soon as there was enough money in the bank.”
In addition, she said Ramnarine borrowed between $20,000 and $30,000 from her husband in order to help “save the business.”
In total, Krizek claims to be owed in excess of $80,000 from the person she calls “a man of destruction.
“He’s a tremendously mean person,” she said. “He has absolutely no shame.”
The phone number at the foundry has been disconnected and Ramnarine was unavailable for comment.
Krizek, an immigrant from Prague, has contacted an attorney about her situation. She is working with Congressman Joseph Crowley’s office and the Attorney General’s Labor Bureau in an attempt to recover her lost funds.
She claims that several other former employees, also owed money from their paychecks, are following suit.
“He changed the lives of so many people and deserves to be in jail,” Krizek said. “We all want him to go to prison.”