A Michigan photography dealer has pled guilty to swindling at least 10 clients who had relied upon her to sell $1.6 million in art, according to federal officials.
The US Attorney’s Office said on Thursday that Wendy Halstead Beard had pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud related to “a multi-year scheme.” That scheme allegedly involved buying artworks on consignment and then defrauding her clients, keeping them out of the loop about the sales and then, when pressed for information, lying in emails.
Beard’s alleged victims include a Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist and an 89-year-old man with Alzheimer’s disease. The works involved include multiple photographs by Ansel Adams, as well as prints of works by Diane Arbus, August Sander, and others.
According to court documents, one deal involved a 72-year-old friend of Beard, from whom he bought an Adams picture for $73,000. When he never received it, he contacted her by email. She wrote back, “Not all gone but at least out of the months long coma. Nice to see the sunshine sorry so short more later.” The FBI said the coma and another claim that she had recently underwent a lung transplant were not real.
FBI agents believe that Beard, 58, had conducted the alleged scheme between March 2019 and October 2022 in Birmingham, Michigan.
US Attorney Dawn N. Ison said in a statement that Beard had “swindled numerous families out of valuable artwork and lied to them repeatedly in order to keep her fraud scheme afloat. She did this for no reason other than to line her own pockets at the expense of her victims. There is no place for this kind of criminal deceit in our community, and today’s conviction holds this defendant accountable for her conduct.”
Beard’s sentencing is expected to take place on December 20.