Pei-Shen Qian, a Chinese artist who lived in Queens, is believed to be behind the massive forgery scandal that had him faking more than 100 modernist paintings by the likes of Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline and Jackson Pollock.
Qian's neighbors say they haven't seen the artist or his wife in months and some speculate that he has returned to China.
The alleged forger immigrated to the U.S. to expand his art career which was already flourishing in China. His success was limited by a language barrier and he set to selling paintings on the streets of lower Manhattan.
The boyfriend of Long Island art dealer Glafira Rosales reportedly discovered Qian on the streets in the 1990s. While the boyfriend has not been charged with a crime, Rosales allegedly recruited Qian to fabricate works by American Abstract Expressionists in a staggering scam for over 15 years.
Rosales then sold the paintings, with fake provenances, through prominent galleries such as the now-defunct Knoedler & Co.
Collectors paid as much as $17 million for the "rediscovered" modernist masterpieces that Qian allegedly forged. Rosales' boyfriend, named in previous court papers as Jose Carlos Bergantiños-Diaz, is said to have been the one to weather the paintings to look older.
Federal prosecutors have not named Qian or charged him with a crime, but details about him came up in a superseding indictment against Rosales on Wednesday.
Rosales has been arrested and charged with wire fraud and money laundering. She was released on bail last week.
Eight related lawsuits from buyers, two already settled, have simmered to the surface.
Knoedler & Co. took in $63 million from the forgeries, paying Rosales $20 million of that sum. Dealer Julian Weissman, sold another $17 million of the works coming through Rosales.
The artist received just a few thousand dollars a piece for his forgeries.