Florida pastor Kevin Sutherland, convicted in April of knowingly selling forged Damien Hirst paintings, will serve a six-month sentence behind bars.
Sutherland was found guilty for attempting to peddle a fake painting by the British artist to an undercover police officer. The charge was for second-degree attempted grand larceny.
Sutherland was caught up in a larger case against Vincent Lopreto, who operated a Hirst forgery ring though online auction site eBay. The pastor, who began dabbling in art dealing in 2010, became an unwitting accomplice to the scheme when he began snapping up the ersatz Hirsts and flipping them.
The case was heard in State Supreme Court in Manhattan by Justice Bonnie G. Wittner, who handed down a jail sentence based on Sutherland’s decision to go through with his plans to sell the faux Hirsts even after Sotheby’s refused to authenticate one of the works.
“Here he had a choice, and he made the wrong choice,” said Wittner during the sentencing. “He could easily have rectified it in the right way.”
For his part, Sutherland claimed that Sotheby’s didn’t make it clear that the painting was a fake, and he still believed it to be authentic. The pastor’s lawyer, Sam Talkin, stressed his client’s lack of a criminal past, arguing in favor of probation rather than jail time. Talkin called the crime “an isolated detour from an otherwise law-abiding life.”
Prosecutors argued that Sutherland had not only attempted to unload artwork he knew was fake, but that he also attempted to turn a profit on the deal. “This crime was motivated by greed,” said Rachel Hochhauser, an assistant district attorney. “He did more than try to pass on his financial loss. He tried to get a windfall from it.”