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A Chance Stroll Led to Suspect in Art Forgeries

August 10, 1989|TERRY PRISTIN | Times Staff Writer

It was Japanese artist Hiro Yamagata's chance stroll down a Beverly Hills street last year that eventually put investigators on the path of a major art forger, Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner said Wednesday.

Popping into the Carol Lawrence Galleries, relatives walking with Yamagata noticed that several of his miniature watercolors were hung on the walls. They immediately summoned the artist, who had been standing outside.

"Mr. Yamagata walked in, he looked at the paintings, and he said to his relatives in Japanese, 'Those are not my paintings,' " Reiner told reporters as Yamagata, who lives in Los Angeles, stood by his side.

Yamagata's tip ultimately resulted in a criminal case against Anthony Gene Tetro, 39, of Claremont, who was described by Reiner as the nation's largest forger of paintings.

Tetro was charged July 31 with 44 counts of felony forgery and one count of conspiracy. Reiner said a search of Tetro's home turned up 250 forgeries of work attributed to Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso and Norman Rockwell.

The district attorney held his news conference in a room bedecked with samples of the recovered pieces, including a painting attributed to Dali that would be worth $2 million if genuine, according to Reiner.

Tetro, who is scheduled to be arraigned Friday, is accused of conspiring with art dealer Mark Henry Sawicki, 32, of Agoura to defraud other art dealers by selling them fake Yamagata watercolors and Miro lithographs. Sawicki was charged last March with 10 forgery and grand theft counts and is expected to testify against Tetro.

Tetro's attorney, George Porter, said the case against his client "is at least grossly exaggerated and may not be a case at all. . . . It's clear that Mr. Sawicki did have a motivation to try to shift blame onto my client."

The Tetro case is the latest in a series of efforts nationwide to cope with the proliferation of fake art. In June the Federal Trade Commission filed a civil suit against French publisher Pierre Marcand, accusing him of producing and selling 22,000 fraudulent prints attributed to well-known artists--Dali, in particular.

A link between the Tetro and Marcand cases emerged Wednesday with the disclosure that some artwork that appeared to have been produced by Marcand was discovered during the search of Tetro's home. District attorney's investigator Gary Helton confirmed the finding but declined to provide details.

Marcand's attorney, however, denied there was any connection between his client and the alleged forger. "To my knowledge, Marcand never met Tetro, didn't know Tetro and certainly had no business dealings with him," attorney David Paul Steiner said.

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