By: Janet McConnaughey, Associated Press
NEW ORLEANS (AP).- A 79-year-old man admitted Monday that he forged paintings and sold them as work by famous folk artist Clementine Hunter, U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley said.
William Toye of Baton Rouge pleaded guilty in federal court in Lafayette to one count of conspiracy to sell forgeries falsely attributed to Hunter, Finley said in a news release.
"This defendant preyed upon the best of what our art community has to offer. It was all motivated by greed," Finley said. "We hope that this case sends a message of the importance of protecting our artists and those who are patrons of the art."
Toye, his wife, Beryl Ann Toye, 69, and New Orleans art dealer Robert E. Lucky Jr., 63, were charged in February 2010 with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and three of mail fraud. Beryl Ann Toye and Lucky are scheduled for trial Aug. 15 before U.S. District Judge Dee D. Drell in Alexandria.
Under the plea agreement, the government will dismiss the other three counts against Toye when he is sentenced Sept. 7, Finley said in an email. He must pay restitution and could get up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Restitution will be decided at sentencing, she said.
Hunter, a plantation cook and the granddaughter of a slave, taught herself to paint in the late 1930s with brushes and tubes of paint an artist had left at the plantation where she worked. She painted scenes of field work, baptisms, funerals and other aspects of plantation life from memory, and many of her paintings were similar.
She sold some for as little as 25 cents. Since her death in 1988 at the age of 101, her paintings now sell for thousands of dollars. The indictment said two Hunter forgeries sold in January 2005 went for a total of $18,000.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.