January 27, 2014 / 10:51 PM / 5 years ago

Foundry owner admits to ripping off Jasper Johns sculpture

Contemporary artist Jasper Johns exits the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York January 23, 2014. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A metal shop owner on Monday admitted he tried to pass off a sculpture he made as a Jasper Johns creation, bringing his criminal trial to an abrupt end just days after the renowned modern American painter himself testified as a witness.

Brian Ramnarine, 59, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to attempting to sell a bronze sculpture made from a mold of Johns’ iconic 1960 work, “Flag,” for $11 million. The plea agreement with prosecutors came less than a week after his trial began.

“I think Mr. Ramnarine recognized the government had an overwhelming amount of evidence,” said Ramnarine’s lawyer, Troy Smith. “He balanced that against his right to fight the case and go to trial, and he recognized that this was his best option.”

Ramnarine pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud stemming from his attempt to sell the Johns work as well as efforts to sell artwork he falsely claimed had been created by Brazilian-born sculptor and painter Saint Clair Cemin and American pop art sculptor Robert Indiana, most famous for his sculpture “Love.”

Under the terms of the deal, Ramnarine’s lawyers and prosecutors agreed to seek a sentence between approximately eight to 10 years, in prison. The length of the sentence will ultimately be decided by U.S. District Judge John Koeltl, who oversaw the trial.

Johns is known for employing American popular culture images in his artwork, which includes painting and printmaking. He had commissioned Ramnarine, whose Queens foundry did work for many artists, to create a wax cast from a mold of his painting in 1990.

Last Thursday, the 83-year-old Johns appeared as a witness, testifying that he never gave Ramnarine permission to keep the mold or create any sculptures.

Ramnarine is not the only defendant facing charges of ripping off Johns’ artwork. James Meyer, Johns’ longtime assistant, is scheduled to go on trial this fall on charges that he stole nearly two dozen works from Johns and sold them through an art gallery. He has pleaded not guilty.

Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Chris Francescani and Lisa Shumaker

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