Honolulu couple charged in fake art scheme

Jan. 15—The pair were arrested Jan. 4 by FBI agents in Hawaii, where they have been living since November, according to the indictment.

A man who allegedly made nearly $200, 000 by selling fake "antique " woodblocks and woodblock prints to collectors around the world is being released into transitional housing on a $50, 000 unsecured bond while awaiting arraignment next month in federal court in Pennsylvania.

Earl Marshawn Washington and his girlfriend Zsanett Nagy were indicted Jan. 4 by a federal grand jury in Pennsylvania on charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bank fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering and wire fraud in connection with the sale of fraudulent artworks.

The pair were arrested that same day by FBI agents in Hawaii, where they have been living since November, according to the indictment.

Washington's attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Jacquelyn Esser, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a statement that he "looks forward to clearing his name of the charges."

Nagy's appointed attorney, Birney Bervar, said he handled her transfer to the Middle District of Pennsylvania and her detention hearing. She will be released on a $50, 000 secured bond but must first post $10, 000 in cash.

Washington and Nagy are scheduled for arraignment Feb. 6 at the U.S. District Court in Harrisburg, Pa.

The couple were charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Yates, who is prosecuting the case for the government, declined to comment.

Washington and Nagy in recent years have taken up residence in a number of places, including Key West, Fla.; Miami ; Honolulu ; Las Vegas ; and New Orleans, according to the indictment. They are accused of peddling artwork purported to be antique examples of xylography, the art of making woodcuts or engravings from wooden blocks, according to federal court documents.

A physician and collector of woodblocks "depicting medical imagery, such as anatomical models and medical procedures, for display in his private museum, " was one of Washington's alleged victims in Pennsylvania, as was a metallurgist who collected objects related to the steel industry, the indictment said.

A collector and seller of engraved wood items in France and a co-worker were two more victims detailed in the indictment. Washington allegedly admitted to the French collectors, after more than $80, 000 in sales to them, that he engraved the blocks himself and promised to repay them to avoid legal action.

Starting in February 2013 and continuing until March 2016, Washington allegedly sold woodblocks and woodblock prints on eBay under the alias "River Seine, " the indictment said.

The Pennsylvania physician bought several items from Washington, who claimed in a series of emails to the buyer that his family had a collection of woodblocks from an acquisition by his great-grandfather, and that some of the items dated back to the 16th and 17th centuries or earlier, according to the indictment In total, the physician bought about 130 woodblocks for approximately $118, 810. The federal indictment said woodblocks sold to the physician, in fact, were no older than the "second half of the 20th century."

Nagy allegedly received the money from the sales and shipped the fake goods, allowing Washington to "preserve his anonymity."

The indictment said that from June 2018 until December 2020, the two conspired to commit wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering, as Nagy allegedly used multiple PayPal accounts to sell and accept payments for woodblocks and woodblock prints provided by Washington.

Upon receiving payments, the indictment said, Nagy moved customer funds from her PayPal accounts to bank accounts she controlled, and then made additional cash withdrawals of the customer funds.

"This pattern of financial transactions promoted the carrying on of their activity and concealed and disguised the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of their proceeds, " according to the indictment.