The art prospector must have thought he'd snagged a great deal when he purchased what he thought was a $5-million Picasso pastel for less than half its value.
Tatiana Khan, owner of the Chateau Allegre gallery on La Cienega Boulevard, claimed the artwork -- called "La Femme Au Chapeau Bleu" (The Woman in the Blue Hat) -- was owned by the Malcolm Forbes family estate and was a bargain at only $2 million, according to court documents.
But the art prospector became suspicious several years later and contacted a Picasso expert in 2008. Enrique Mallen, director of the On-Line Picasso Project, concluded the work was "not by the hand of Pablo Picasso."
These were among the allegations in a criminal complaint filed against Khan in U.S. District Court on Thursday. Khan, 69, is accused of executing a scheme to defraud the art prospector and hiring an artist to fabricate the 1901 Picasso drawing.
Khan's attorney denies any wrongdoing. "Ms. Khan is a very respected antique dealer with a 40-year career that establishes her legitimacy," James W. Spertus said.
According to the complaint, Khan allegedly told artist Maria Apelo Cruz that the real Picasso artwork had been stolen from one of Khan's clients and that the dealer needed a copy to play a trick that would help catch the thief.
Cruz, who had worked with Khan in the past, did not think much of the request, said the North Hollywood-based artist in an interview with The Times on Friday.
Khan gave Cruz a photograph of the artwork to copy and paid her $1,000, the complaint alleged. Soon after, Khan allegedly sold the drawing for $2 million to the art prospector.
When Khan was contacted by the FBI in 2009, the complaint alleged, the gallery owner told Cruz not to divulge that she had created the fake Picasso. Khan also asked Cruz to change the invoice to say that Cruz had simply retouched a primitive painting, according to the complaint.
In an interview, FBI agents said Khan told them she obtained the drawing from a cosmetologist, whose family had purchased the Picasso before the Bosnian war, as collateral for a $40,000 loan.
Khan allegedly told the agent that she believed the cosmetologist's family paid about $300,000 for the artwork but that she later learned it was worth $2 million to $5 million and decided to sell it on the lower end. The cosmetologist has since died.
FBI agents served Khan the summons Friday and seized a painting by Abstract Expressionist artist Willem de Kooning that Khan allegedly purchased with $720,000 received for the sale of the fake Picasso.