The FBI raided the home of a gallery owner who is accused of cheating clients out of more than 100 rare fine art photographs, including prints by famed landscape photographer Ansel Adams, worth an estimated $1.6 million.
Wendy Halsted Beard, who owned the Wendy Halsted Gallery in Birmingham, Michigan, was arrested on Friday and charged with mail and wire fraud and accused of orchestrating a scheme involving photographs that she received on consignment.
Prosecutors allege that she sold pictures without the owner’s knowledge, pocketed the cash, or failed to return unsold works.
The Detroit News reports that Beard tried to cover up the fraud by claiming she had been in two prolonged comas and by passing off cheap copies of Adams’ prints she bought from the photographer’s gift shop as original, signed photographs.
Police arrested Beard and released a 24-page criminal complaint while spelling out the case: “Over 100 rare fine art photographs with a combined estimated value of approximately $1.6 million have been identified as being consigned to Beard and not returned or sold to victims without being delivered. Beard’s victims are typically elderly individuals.”
According to an affidavit, an 82-year-old victim gave Beard $900,000 worth of fine art photography in 2018 for her to sell on consignment. Included in the collection was a mural-sized photograph of The Tetons and the Snake River by Adams.
Beard agreed to sell the photograph for $685,000 with a 5% commission. Investigators say she sold it for $440,000 but the victim was never notified she had sold it and never received the money.
The collection included a signed print of Tenaya Creek shot by Adams in Yosemite National Park in California in 1948 and valued at $4,000 to $5,500.
Investigators say that when the said client’s relatives asked for the Adams photos to be returned to them, Beard gave them cheap copies from a gift shop instead of the original, signed photographs.
The allegations reportedly stunned the famed photographer’s grandson, Matthew Adams, who runs the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite, California.
“Holy mackerel,” Adams tells The Detroit News during a phone interview. “Wow, that’s not good.”
Beard’s gallery was created by her father, Thomas Halsted in 1969 and was a respected gallery focused on photography. He died in 2018, and his obituary notes how he forged friendships with great photographers, including Adams.
On Friday, FBI agents raided Beard’s home and arrested her. She was released on $10,000 unsecured bond Friday after making an initial appearance in federal court in Detroit on charges punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison.
While out on bond, Beard is prohibited from having contact with victims and is not allowed to accept any new photographs for consignment.
Image credits: Photo by Ansel Adams/Public Domain.