Along for the ride:

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Trying to fool all of the people, all of the time...

A golden bridge gateway to an ethereal city perched by a bay. From the vista point on the north side, looking back, few tourists are here at 6:30 am. I stop to use the facilities, so conveniently located half way between my home and my destination, (Napa's Superior Court Building). Whenever I stop here I always take a moment to breathe in the air from the wide Pacific Ocean on my right and to spot container ships entering under the span, guided by pilots familiar with the islands, currents and channels so that Zim, Maersk and Evergreen shipments do not get hung up on Alcatraz.
Taking to the road again, dipping past the moored real estate that passes for houseboats in Sausalito, my mind is on the "Victim's Statement" that I will make at a sentencing hearing for a gallery owner who, among other things, sold paintings and never paid the artists. The District Attorney said it would help his arguments if some victims were willing to participate. Sadly, he also advised me that "Off with his head!" was not a sentencing option, no matter how good my impression of The Queen of Hearts.
As I turn onto the main Napa thoroughfare I see six hot air balloons suspended  in the pale gold morning air.  The sun bores through the moisture lifting from the milk chocolate earth, between the lushly leafed rows of grapevines, as the descendants  of the Montgolfier brothers' invention slowly gain height and progress down the valley in a stately dance. They are pretending nonchalance but they must complete their tours before the winds that will rise with the temperatures make them unmanageable and dangerous. I have never wanted to trust my fate to a gaseous bubble with neither steering nor brakes, and yet, I am charmed; I just might have to give this a try one day. What a way to experience the morning?
The Courthouse was not hard to find and has a free all day parking garage behind it and the jail. I am pleasantly surprised at how new and well kept the building, and those around it, are. Napa was never the place to go in the Valley; too worn out and grubby. Everyone means Yountville, Calistoga and St Helena when they talk of wine tasting and boutiquing; in between spa treatments and some very good restaurants. It seems that the town of Napa is also worth reconsidering.
I feel comfortably situated as I know where I am and where I am going.  I spend some time in the car rewriting my statement that I had banged together, tired and hurried the preceding evening. These cases take years to get from complaint to sentencing and I had pulled out my file and refreshed my memory of the details, dating back to 2003.
Ed King owned Generations Gallery, in Yountville. The same man who represents my husband's work on the East Coast, got sucked into sending King several large and beautiful paintings by Jean Duquoc. Jean is based in Brittany and has a strong eye for colorful seascapes and landscapes. In the beginning they were all excited about the possibilities of a solo show and they heard back nothing but positive reviews and future sales.
It is strange how checks get lost in the mail; bookkeepers won't be available for a month to rewrite them; family illness is exploited to excuse all kinds of shady dealings and when asked to return "unsold" work suddenly the story evolves to include clients who have paintings out on approval with a hope of potential sales. How could an artist in France and an agent in New Jersey really follow up as required?
Yountville is less than two hours' drive for us. We went to see if we could shed light on a confusing and, by then, suspicious situation. Not one Duquoc painting on the walls of Generations Gallery and a sales staff who knew of no more available canvases. I began hounding King by phone and email and then wrote an ultimatum letter, detailing all the facts. I didn't really think it would do much good but it was designed to serve as my factual presentation to Napa's District Attorney.
That was the beginning of our battle for justice and today was the conclusion. With ample opportunities to make restitution rather than serve time, King continued to believe he could sweet talk his way out of trouble for ever.
King was sentenced to five years in Prison, much to his surprise. He will qualify for probation in half that time but that will be contingent on "making whole" (the Judge's chosen words), all the artists he defrauded.
Ed King owes half a million dollars, including unpaid sales taxes, client credit card double charges and paintings. He has been in custody for over a month already for failure to appear at his previous hearing. His ex-golf pro tan has faded leaving pasty sun wrinkled tortoise skin; his hair has grown in grey now that his colorist is unavailable to him; although the cut is fashionably short. Napa is a kind jurisdiction; their jail jump suits are a reasonable navy blue; unlike the bright traffic-cone orange of so many penitentiaries.
Who's fooling who, now?


  1. It is difficult to tell, with the exception of the "victim's statement" whether or not The French Artist's work was also stolen by this particular scoundrel. If so, I'm sorry about that. And I'm sorry that the painter from Brittany has had such a negative experience with one of the lovely people of NoCal.

    For such a tawdry event, you sure made it sound beautiful. The curse of having "a way with words?"

    I hope that you were able to derive some sense of satisfaction from the outcome of the proceedings even though there was no Guillotine with its accompanying basket on sight.

    English Rider 1
    Thieving Art Dealers 0

  2. It's good to read of a case where justice has served well. So often it's the other way around. I hope your hubby was not one of those defrauded.

    And damn good of you to be such an upstanding citizen, ER!

  3. What a story! There is an amazing amount of fraud in the art world, mostly because artists are busy creating art and have no time or usually, inclination, to deal with business matters. That is why agents were invented.

    It's truly gratifying to see justice served, especially the part about making the artists whole, although the punitive pleasure of seeing the scoundrel go to jail should not be underestimated either.

  4. What fabulous writing! Seriously, this felt like the beginning of a novel... and a good one at that.

  5. Some things are definitely worth pursuing. Good for you for following through. Not very often do I hear of someone meeting justice and made to face consequences for their illegal actions.

  6. Ms. Pliers & Deborah, No harm to us. Thanks for asking.I was purely involved in getting justice for the other guys due to my geographic proximity.For once the law agreed with what was right. The Judge was very attentive and cut right through the crap. He wasn't buying what Ed was selling.

  7. ArtinSF, The other "victim" who spoke up yesterday not only lost paintings on which he had spent hundreds of hours, he had to take a job to make up the shortfall and was emotionally unable to paint again for two years.

    Steve, Thank you. I think I might be a "plein-air" writer, like artists who paint outdoors. I do best "in the moment", if I can jot down a thought or capture what I see, I don't lose it. This post had a preliminary title "No batteries in my camera". I did want to take some pictures but the batteries were dead. Another title would be "Too tired to edit"

  8. TechnoBabe, one or two folks who have crossed my path over the years have been shocked that there were consequences in this world. I am a very credible witness and I always show up. Can't be much help in a line-up though, not good at faces. Details seen and heard are my forte.

  9. Ditto the "well written" comment. As a local, I cringed at the part about the bay pilots, thinking "yeh, and they have to get by the Bay Bridge without hitting it" The referenced pilot lives in my town. Also, if you haven't been to Oxbow Market in Napa, you simply MUST!

  10. Beautiful descriptions to accompany a tale of evil. I hate it when people take advantage of artists. They have such an emotional investment in their work, its loss to an unscrupulous creep like that.

    I am so happy to hear justice was served. His repaying the money will never quite make up for the emotional hurt he inflicted on the artists, but it will help a little. I just hope he is actually forced to pay it and doesn't elude that part of his "sentence."

  11. Silliyak, thanks for the tip about the Oxbow Market. That looks promising. And thanks for the kind words.
    Re: ships, my business sells imported products so the container-ship mishaps are taken personally, as is anything causing delay at Port of Oakland.

  12. Jean, It was a very scenic day. I don't know how he will ever repay anyone from his prison cell. It was nice to hope but I think we should all just move past our encounter with Mr. King. He's in the rear-view mirror now.

  13. how come you can make a sordid tale like this sound uplifting?
    must be the happy outcome!
    Congratulations on a job well done, both here and in court.

  14. Friko,it always feels like a holiday to me when I have an excuse to turn off my cell phone and be unavailable and off on my own. I am a "morning and justice" person. The two aligned nicely in this case.

  15. Hope you had time to savor a good lunch with a glass of wine after the courtroom jubilation...

    What a scoundrel...

    Does he sell used automobiles also ?

  16. Owen, I was startled to hear the case mentioned on the local news today. PR department working hard from D.A's office, I expect. They earned the shout-out, a lot of work and time on their part. Should I mention that Hubby's upcoming Paris show turns out to be a scam too?

  17. Are you serious about the Paris show? What's the haps on that? That would mean that you aren't coming after all? Do tell.