Robert E. Lucky Jr., 63,, formerly of Natchitoches and a well-known figure in the antique and art community, was charged last year with conspiring with a Baton Rouge couple, William and Beryl Ann Toye, to sell fake paintings to unsuspecting art collectors.
Lucky, who had a federal trial scheduled to start next week, faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine following his guilty plea to one count of mail fraud. His sentencing is set for Oct. 21.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley said in a statement.
The Toyes already have pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges.
Prosecutors said Lucky sold many of the forgeries that William Toye painted. Toye and his wife also allegedly sold some of the paintings themselves.
Hunter, a black folk artist who died in 1988 at age 101, taught herself to paint while living in rural Natchitoches Parish. Her paintings depict cotton picking, baptisms, funerals and other scenes of plantation life and can sell for thousands of dollars apiece.
Prosecutors said Lucky used a New Orleans dealer’s letterhead to promote his sale of forged paintings, which he claimed to have acquired from Hunter collectors and investors.
“In several cases, the paintings were returned to Lucky as forgeries and were later resold by him,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing last month. “When reselling the paintings, Lucky never revealed that there were questions as to the paintings’ authenticity and would fabricate additional provenance as to the source and history of the paintings.”
The FBI said in a 2009 court filing that Lucky learned from experts that the Toyes’ paintings were forgeries but continued to sell them. Lucky denied that allegation during an interview with The Associated Press in 2009, several months before he was indicted.
“I never sold a painting that I thought was a forgery,” he said at the time.
Tom Whitehead, a retired journalism professor at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, said he and a friend bought more than a dozen bogus Hunter paintings from Lucky for tens of thousands of dollars. Whitehead, who was a friend of Hunter’s and collected her work, said Lucky later refunded his money after he questioned the paintings’ authenticity.
“It became suspicious that there were so many perfect ones,” he recalled Monday. “There seemed to be almost an endless supply of them.” and safety and also provide more accountability for DHH staff,” said Greenstein.