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Art gallery owner in Ansel Adams fraud scandal strikes deal with feds

Robert Snell, The Detroit News on

Published in News & Features

DETROIT — A prominent Metro Detroit art gallery owner reached agreement Thursday to plead guilty to wire fraud after being accused of cheating wealthy clients out of a $1.6 million collection of more than 100 rare fine-art prints — including black-and-white photographs by landscape photographer Ansel Adams.

Wendy Halsted Beard, 58, of Franklin, who owns the Wendy Halsted Gallery, reached the agreement seven months after a high-profile FBI raid at her home. She was charged with mail and wire fraud and accused of orchestrating a scheme involving photographs that she received on consignment.

Prosecutors allege she sold pictures without the owner's knowledge, pocketed the cash or failed to return unsold works, according to the complaint.

According to a court filing Thursday, Beard is expected to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. Starting in March 2019, Beard sold fine art photographs that had been given to her on consignment and kept the money.

Beard tried to lull victims into a false sense of security by offering excuses for her inability or unwillingness to return consigned photographs, according to the court filing.

"These excuses consisted, primarily, of exaggerating the severity of her own health, including claiming (1) to have recently been in a coma and (2) to have received a double-lung transplant," prosecutors wrote in the filing.


"In other instances, Beard conveyed to her victims that there was a lack of interest among potential purchasers — despite having already sold the photograph(s) in question on at least one occasion," prosecutors added. "Beard also created fake 'employee' identities which she used to correspond with her victims."

Beard's lawyer, Steve Fishman, declined comment Thursday.

The criminal case includes a forfeiture provision that says Beard "shall forfeit to the United States any property, real or personal, which constitutes, or is derived from, any proceeds obtained, directly or indirectly."

Once Beard is sentenced, the FBI will start the process of returning seized artwork to the rightful owners, spokeswoman Mara Schneider said Thursday. Anyone who believes they provided art to or never received purchased art from Beard can contact the FBI at (313) 965-2323.


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