Bail for couple charged in Hutt art scam

KERRY MCBRIDE
Last updated 05:00 04/04/2012

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Hutt Valley

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A couple allegedly at the centre of an art scam in Upper Hutt have been remanded on bail.

Alessandra Frigero-Briones, 33, of Chile, and Eliyahu Daniel Shafir, 23, of Israel, appeared at Upper Hutt District Court this afternoon charged with two counts each of obtaining by deception on April 2. The amount totalled $750.

Both were to surrender their passports to the court and cannot apply for any new passports or travel documents. Frigero-Briones and Shafir both entered no plea and will appear again on April 18.

Police said earlier that three alleged scammers in the Silverstream area were attempting to sell artwork door-to-door and were leading buyers to believe the works were worth much more than they were.

A third man was spoken to but has not been charged.

It is understood the artworks were pictures bought from China for a small sum and sold for between $150 and $400 each.

Petone resident Brent Pritchard and his wife Lisa were visited by a young man trying to sell paintings in early January.

"Us not being art connoisseurs, we were impressed by what we saw and ended up buying six pieces of art off them."

With the Pritchards not willing to pay the full cost up front, the man handed over internet banking details and his cellphone number to arrange for a split payment.

In total, they spent $800 on the fake paintings, only realising they had been conned when Mr Pritchard took the paintings to a local framer and was informed they were duplicates.

Both the young man and the supervisor who came to offer other paintings to the Pritchards seemed to be genuine businesspeople, Mr Pritchard said.

Pritchard said the paintings were still hanging on his walls at home. "We like them as paintings. It's a bit annoying that they are take-offs, but we will hold on to them.

"It's just a bloody shame we paid as much as we did."

Totara Park resident Rachael Burrell was visited by a young woman purporting to sell original artworks on Monday night but as she had been visited by the dealers in early March, she recognised the scam.

"I just asked her straight up if she was one of the Israeli art scammers, and she said she had only been in New Zealand for a week. She basically acted like she knew nothing."

The woman continued to try to sell the supposed original artworks despite being asked about the scam.

"She showed me through all the pieces and I just kept saying 'I've seen that, I've seen that, I've seen that one too'. They were all the exact same paintings that had been shown to me last month."

The woman then told Burrell that many art students do "variations" on original paintings. The artworks were being offered for between $200 and $400 a piece.

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The woman started to grow nervous, which was worsened when a police car drove past.

"It was nothing to do with her, they were just patrolling. But she freaked out and started packing up her stuff quick smart.

"I asked her how much the paintings were again, but she said they weren't for sale after all. She packed up and couldn't get off my property fast enough."

Immigration New Zealand has been involved in the Upper Hutt inquiry and was aware of the arrests.

A similar scam involving Israelis was uncovered in Nelson last month.

The Nelson scammers, all of which were Israeli, had now left the country.

Immigration New Zealand said one was deported on March 21 and had a two-year ban from returning to New Zealand.

A group of five, who were subject to deportation liability notices and had a 28-day right of appeal against deportation, left voluntarily at their own cost. The deportation notices would be taken into account for any visa they may apply for in future, however.

The seventh had, at the time of being spoken to, already been planning to leave New Zealand and departed without deportation action being taken against him.

Have you been approached by these door-to-door art sellers? Contact news@dompost.co.nz

 

 

- The Dominion Post

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