In a posted message on artist Raymond Pettibon’s Twitter account two years ago, he appeared to express his gratitude to two friends who had visited him.
“Thank you Christian Rosa and Henry Taylor for coming,” the message read. “Great artists and nice, genuine people. You made my day.
But at the time, according to federal prosecutors, Mr. Rosa was actually involved in something that was the opposite of the genuine: he was plotting to sell counterfeits of Mr. Pettibon’s work.
In an indictment announced Wednesday, Mr Rosa was charged with wire fraud in the sale of four paintings believed to be the work of Mr Pettibon and which were supported by certificates of authenticity on which Mr Rosa is accused of forging Mr. Pettibon’s signature.
Mr. Rosa, who according to the indictment is also known as Christian Rosa Weinberger, “defrauded buyers of hundreds of thousands of dollars and risked the legacy of a New York artist through to his counterfeiting ploy, ”Damian Williams, the American attorney in Manhattan, said in a statement.
Mr Rosa, 43, lived in California but fled the United States in February and is still at large, prosecutors said. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted of the most serious charge against him. Joined Thursday, the lawyer representing him in the case, Robert Gottlieb, declined to comment.
Mr Pettibon could not be reached for comment on Wednesday, and representatives for David Zwirner, the gallery that represents him, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
On Thursday, without commenting on the charges, Mr Pettibon’s studio operations manager said via email that the artist had not written the 2019 tweet thanking Mr Rosa for the visit and suggested it could have been be the work of a hacker, possibly Mr. Rosa.
Mr. Pettibon “has a very particular writing style and above all he writes his tweets with a very distinguished sense of humor,” wrote operations manager Sozita Goudouna, adding that he “would never use” common adjectives “as genuine or type.”
The indictment offers the following account of the events leading up to the charges:
From 2017 and until last year, Mr. Rosa worked with others to sell the four pieces, which he falsely represented as coming from Mr. Pettibon’s “Wave Series”.
In 2018, Rosa brought in an unidentified buyer to arrange for the sale of two of the counterfeits to a second unidentified buyer. (As a thank you for the help from the first buyer, Mr. Rosa gave the person another supposedly “Wave Series” painting.)
At one point in 2019, Mr Rosa exchanged emails with a friend trying to find buyers “for some unnamed paintings”. In one of the emails, Mr Rosa wrote that “they ask about the certificates, how we get them”.
At one point, Mr. Rosa’s friend asked why sales were taking so long. Mr. Rosa replied that he wanted to find a buyer who would not resell the works at auction.
“I’m not trying to get arrested, that’s why it’s taking longer,” he wrote.
Mr Rosa used the proceeds from the sale of two of the paintings for a down payment and mortgage payment on a house in California, prosecutors said.
In 2020, the first unidentified buyer – after attempting to help Mr Rosa sell other works allegedly by Mr Pettibon – purchased the other two forgeries at issue in the indictment.
The scheme began to unravel when the Artnet website published an article on allegations that Mr Rosa had falsified one of the paintings sold to the first buyer, which had been put up for sale at an auction house in New York by a subsequent buyer.
Dealers who saw images of one of the paintings offered for sale “became suspicious when they noticed that there was a seemingly odd yellow-green mixed with ‘Mr. Pettibon’s normal cobalt blue,” said said the Artnet article, adding that “the signature scribble seemed a bit too polite” as well.
The day after the article was published, according to the indictment, Mr. Rosa emailed his friend to tell him that “the secret is out”. Less than a month later, Mr. Rosa left the United States. A few months later, he sold the California house and attempted to transfer the proceeds from the sale overseas.
Mr. Pettibon, 64, first gained attention in the 1980s and 1990s with his comic book-style cover art on albums by punk rock bands like Black Flag, the Minutemen and Sonic Youth.
His early plays often mixed images of baseball greats, Hollywood stars and superheroes with those of bikers, gangsters and infamous American figures like Charles Manson and J. Edgar Hoover.
As his career progressed, he focused more on large works that frequently featured huge waves towering over tiny-looking surfers. Some of his last paintings have sold for $ 1 million or more. It was the subject of a major retrospective at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in Manhattan in 2017.
Mr. Rosa himself was once a rising star in the art world. The market for his work peaked in the fall of 2014, when one of his paintings sold at Christie’s in New York City for $ 209,000, according to the Artnet article. A year later, according to Artnet’s article, a similar work by Mr. Rosa sold at Sotheby’s for $ 30,000.