If bad art were a crime Kinkade would be riding a needle by now.
The FBI is investigating “Painter of Light” Thomas Kinkade and company executives over allegations that they fraudulently induced investors to open galleries, then ruined them financially.
Relying on information from former Kinkade dealers contacted by federal agents, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that the FBI is focusing on issues raised in civil litigation by at least six former Thomas Kinkade Signature Gallery owners.
At least 10 former dealers in Michigan, Virginia and other states have alleged in arbitration claims that Kinkade – a California native beloved by some but reviled by the art establishment – exploited his Christianity to persuade people to invest in the galleries, which sell only Kinkade’s work.
After they had invested tens of thousands of dollars each, the ex-owners said, the company’s policies drove them out of business. They say they were saddled with limited-edition prints no one wanted to buy, forced to open stores in inappropriate venues, and undercut by discount galleries peddling the same items at lower prices they couldn’t match.
Some also say Kinkade – who claims he’s the most widely collected living U.S. artist – schemed to devalue his public company, Media Arts Group Inc., so he could buy it on the cheap. In 2004, Kinkade and other investors paid $32.7 million to take Media Arts Group private, changing its name to Thomas Kinkade Co.
“These dealers became investors primarily because they were believers in faith, love, family and God, and the paintings reflect those values,” said Joseph Ejbeh, a Rochester Hills, Mich.-based attorney who tried an arbitration case that began in San Francisco in December 2004. “A lot of these people were pulled into this scheme because of this representation, but what Thomas Kinkade’s company did to them was despicable.”