Phony fine art dealer sentenced to over 4 years in federal prison after charges out of PA

02 April 2024- The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced that that Earl Marshawn Washington, age 61, and previously a resident of Honolulu, Key West, Las Vegas, and other places, was sentenced to 52 months in prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud.

According to United States Attorney Gerard M. Karam, at the time of his guilty plea, Washington admitted to working with a series of romantic partners, dating back to 2013, to create and sell counterfeit artistic goods known as “woodblocks” or “woodcuts.” Xylography is the art of making “woodcuts,” or engravings made from wooden blocks, especially for printing using historical techniques. In traditional xylography, an artist uses a sharpened tool to carve a design into the surface of a woodblock. The raised areas that remain after the block has been cut are inked and printed, while the recessed areas that are cut away do not retain ink and will remain blank in the final print. Woodblock images can be printed onto paper, fabrics, textiles, or other materials. The technique has been used in different geographic regions at different times. One woodblock tradition stems from Germany starting around the 14th century and continuing for several hundred years thereafter.

Washington was originally charged by indictment in January 2023, along with his then wife, Zsanett Nagy. As part of Washington’s plea agreement, the original charges against him were dismissed, and a new charge of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud was filed. Washington pleaded guilty to this offense in July 2023. Nagy pleaded guilty in August 2023 to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering.

Washington and Nagy each admitted to selling inauthentic woodblocks and prints made from woodblocks that they as advertised as being from between the 15th and early 20th centuries. The buyers included a pair of woodblock collectors residing in France, as well as a buyer of a woodblock print who then resided in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania, in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. On one occasion, for example, Washington promised to send the buyers in France fifteen “15th.C Reformation/Lutheran wood blocks.” The buyers then made PayPal payments to Nagy before learning that the woodblocks they purchased were not from the 15th and 16th centuries, as advertised. Nagy received these payments, moved the proceeds to a bank account in her name, and then quickly converted the proceeds to cash through withdrawals of several thousand dollars or more. Together, the buyers in France paid nearly $85 thousand for counterfeit woodblocks.

Washington’s buyers also included a collector of woodblocks from York, Pennsylvania, in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. This collector paid $118,810 to Washington and Washington’s then girlfriend from 2013 to 2016 in exchange for approximately 130 woodblocks, again advertised as being several centuries old. In one email, for instance, Washington, using the alias “River Seine,” claimed to be selling “original printing blocks from the 16th and 17th centuries.”

At the time of his guilty plea, Washington also admitted to regularly utilizing bank accounts and PayPal accounts belonging to his romantic partners, to utilizing the alias “River Seine” when dealing with customers, and to relying on his partners to handle mailings of packages to victims.

Washington was also ordered to pay restitution to victims in the total amount of $203,240.90 and ordered to serve a three-year term of supervised release following his imprisonment.

Nagy was sentenced to time served in January 2024. She also faces potential deportation for her conviction.

This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ravi Romel Sharma and investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Art Crime Team – Philadelphia Division, with assistance from the FBI Art Crime Program at FBI Headquarters.  The DOJ’s Office of International Affairs provided assistance during the investigation. Assistance was also provided by the French Ministry of Justice, the French National Gendarmerie, the German Federal Criminal Police Office, the State Criminal Police Office of Saxony.