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Detectives find most prolific art forger

By G. LUTHER WHITINGTON

LOS ANGELES -- Major art forgers are rarely caught, but authorities say they have nabbed the nation's most prolific faker, a man who sold hundreds of phony Picassos, Miros and Salvador Dalis from Beverly Hills to Japan.

Investigators said Wednesday they have charged Anthony Tetro, 39, of Claremont, Calif., an upscale suburb of Los Angeles, with 44 counts of forgery and conspiracy to commit grand theft.

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'All our indications are that Tetro created these works of art alone and that he was the single biggest forger in the United States,' District Attorney Ira Reiner told a news conference.

More than 250 forged paintings, watercolors and prints were confiscated in Beverly Hills, New York, Chicago, Boca Raton, Fla., and Japan.

One of the confiscated works, a more than 8-foot forgery of a Dali painting 'Lincoln and Dali Vision,' would have been worth more than $2 million if genuine.

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Reiner displayed more than a dozen paintings and prints, along with tablets on which Tetro allegedly practiced forging the signatures of famous artists.

Tetro was arrested July 31, but it was not announced until Wednesday. Free on $10,000 bail, he was expected to surrender for arraignment Friday.

Independent art experts in Los Angeles and New York were amazed at the quality of the forgeries, ranging from the simple watercolors and oils of Hiro Yamagato and Norman Rockwell to the complicated color schemes and designs of Dali and Marc Chagall.

'If he indeed did all these himself, it's an extraordinary perversion of talent and his arrest is certainly welcome,' said Connie Lowenthal, director of the New York-based American Foundation for Art Research, the nation's largest clearing house for recovering stolen art.

A second suspect, Mark Henry Sawicki, 31, of Los Angeles, has been charged with distributing the forgeries and faces 10 counts of grand theft and forgery.

Reiner said it was not known how much the forgeries may have netted, only that it was 'substantial.' He said Tetro drove a Rolls-Royce.

The investigation began in April, 1988, when Yamagato, a Japanese artist living in New York, saw several small watercolors in the Carol Lawrence Gallery in Beverly Hills that carried his signature but that he knew were forged. The works were selling for up to $6,000.

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A search of Tetro's home turned up the signature tablets and the large Dali painting, Reiner said, but investigators have not located the studio at which the forgeries were done.

Most of the paintings were sold at smaller galleries dealing in prints and lesser works by great artists.

'This fits a pattern,' Lowenthal said. 'Forgers create works by major 20th century artists so they don't have to make them look too old, and then sell them in tourist areas that cater to people on vacation, which for all of us is a time when we carry our brains in our socks.'

Reiner and Lowenthal said distributors of faked artwork are sometimes caught, but it was one of first times the actual forger had been arrested.

'It's very rare for authorities to ever catch the forger,' Lowenthal said. 'They ususally work in very out of the way places and are never found.'

The Los Angeles Times said there may be a link between Tetro and French publisher Pierre Marcand, accused of producing and selling 22,000 phony prints attributed to well-known artists such as Dali.

A district attorney's investigator confirmed that some works apparently produced by Marcand were found during the search of Tetro's home. But Marcand's Los Angeles attorney, David Paul Steiner, told the newspaper that to the best of his knowledge his client '... never met Tetro, didn't know Tetro and certainly had no business dealings with him.'

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