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Photography Dealer Pleads Guilty to $1.5M Fraud and Embezzling Scheme

Ansel Adams

A photography dealer from Michigan has pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud related to a scheme involving more than 10 clients and about $1.5 million in art, including Ansel Adams photographs.

Former Birmingham, Michigan art dealer Wendy Halstead Beard was arrested by the FBI in October 2022 for what prosecutors alleged was a scheme to defraud her customers and embezzle the proceeds over the course of the previous two years.

The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan says that Beard, 58, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud that arose from that multi-year FBI investigation in which Beard received fine art photography prints on consignment, sold the artwork without the knowledge of the owners, kept the profits for herself, and regularly deceived the owners about the status of the photos including claiming she was in two prolongs comas, one for multiple months, and received a lung transplant. Beard also tried to pass off cheap copies of Ansel Adams prints she bought from the photographer’s gift shop as original, signed photographs.

“Throughout the scheme, Beard attempted to lull her victims into a false sense of security by offering excuses for her unwillingness or inability to promptly return the victims’ photographs after the expiration of the operative consignment agreements,” the Attorney’s Office says.

“These excuses consisted of, among other things, exaggerating the severity of her own health problems, including claiming (1) to have recently been in a coma and (2) to have received a double-lung transplant. In other instances, Beard told her victims that there was a lack of interest among potential purchasers—despite having already sold the photographs in question. Beard also created fake ’employee’ identities which she used to correspond with her victims in a further effort to deceive them.”

Beard has acknowledged defrauding more than 10 victims over the course of her two-year scheme and further admitted that at least one was selected due to their vulnerability: they were at an “advanced age,” the plea agreement says.

“This defendant swindled numerous families out of valuable artwork and lied to them repeatedly in order to keep her fraud scheme afloat,” United States Attorney Dawn N. Ison says. “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.”

“With today’s plea, Ms. Beard has taken a first step towards accepting responsibility for her criminal behavior,” Devin J. Kowalski, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office, says. “The FBI remains committed to investigating art fraud and to seeking justice for those affected by this type of scheme.”

Beard’s sentencing is expected to take place on December 20, Art News reports.

Image credits: Photo by Ansel Adams/Public Domain.