The U.S. Attorney's office announced that Robert E. Lucky, Jr, 64, of New Orleans, pled guilty on Aug. 8 to mail fraud in connection with selling paintings falsely attributed to celebrated Southern folk artist Clementine Hunter (1886-1988).
Lucky sold the fake paintings, obtained from William and Beryl Toye, to unsuspecting collectors. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, or both when he is sentenced on October 21, 2011.
The Toyes have already pleaded guilty to mail fraud and face up to five years in prison plus fines. William Toye, 80, was charged with conspiring to defraud collectors by misrepresenting the authenticity and origin of the paintings.
Clementine Hunter was an African-American folk artist who was born on a cotton plantation in Natchitoches Parish, Louisiana. Hunter began painting in the late 1930s and continued to paint until a few days before her death, at age 101, on January 1, 1988.
She produced about 4000 artworks, each one telling a colorful story of her life on the plantation. Hunter worked in the fields and later in the house of Melrose Plantation as a servant, cook, and caretaker of children.
Hunter was the first African-American artist to have a solo exhibition at the Delgado Museum (now the New Orleans Museum of Art) and she received considerable recognition during her lifetime.
Prices for her work range from a few thousand dollars to $20,000.
U.S. Attorney Stephanie A. Finley stated: “Ms. Hunter was a gem of the state of Louisiana. Her artwork was her legacy to all of us. Robert Lucky not only committed a fraud as it relates to her paintings, but he also diminished her legacy, all for greed."