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Art swindler Matthew Taylor convicted

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of August 16, 2012)
Photo: This piece of art work by Lucein Frank is still missing. Matthew Taylor brought it into a island gallery several years ago looking for a frame for it.

Former Central Beach resident Matthew Taylor has been convicted of possession of stolen property, wire fraud, and tax evasion connected to schemes where he stole four paintings from a California gallery and tried to pass off lesser quality work as art by such masters as Claude Monet and Vincent van Gogh.

The jurors reached their verdict Tuesday, one day after they began deliberation following a two-week trial in federal court in Los Angeles.

Taylor was convicted of possessing and selling paintings stolen from a Los Angeles art gallery, tax evasion on more than $1.4 million in income, and structuring financial transactions designed to evade  federal reporting requirements as he tried to hide $226,000 while out on bond.

“There is no question that it is justified,” Vero Beach art dealer Steve Koman said of the verdict.

Koman testified in court last week that Taylor, 44, brought a Lucien Frank painting he is accused of stealing from a Los Angeles gallery to his Cardinal Drive shop several years ago and asked if he had a suitable frame for it.

Federal agents said the Lucien Frank 12½- by 9-inch piece Koman was shown, “Park Scene, Paris,” was stolen sometime after 2006 and was valued at $20,000.

In court, Koman was asked specifically if the painting he saw in his store was the stolen “Park Scene, Paris” piece.

Koman replied he was as sure as he could be. “It’s the same painting,” he said.

Police and federal agents say three  other works of art – one of which brought $236,000 before it was discovered to be stolen  – were taken by Taylor from the same gallery, but that the statute of limitations had run out on two pieces stolen in 2004.

The whereabouts of the stolen paintings remain unknown.

When Koman examined the Frank piece, he said, Taylor implied he bought the painting from a little shop.

Police say that when piece was stolen, it was in a gold frame. It was not framed when Taylor bought it to Koman’s gallery.

“It was nice – a nice pleasant little painting,” Koman said.

He said he told Taylor that he did not have a suitable frame for it.

The Frank piece is believed to have been last seen on the barrier island.

Koman was one of a parade of witnesses in the trial of Taylor, who originally faced more than 10 charges of stealing valuable pieces of art and trying to pass off bogus art as the work of masters.

Jurors determined Taylor sold a stolen Granville Redmond painting from a Los Angeles gallery to a different gallery for $85,000, claiming his mother had owned it since the 1990s. 

Taylor also was convicted of evading federal income taxes that he owed on more than $1.4 million received in 2005 and 2006. 

Prosecutors said Taylor had not filed income tax returns for those years and took elaborate steps to evade paying taxes by creating or having others create corporations with names such as Microsoft Holdings, AIG Investments, and ING Investments.

Koman said it boggled his mind to see Taylor – a regular in his Cardinal Drive showroom – in federal court.

“Frankly, I was surprised to hear that he was a thief or an alleged thief,” Koman said.

Koman said Taylor, who told him he was in the real estate business, impressed the gallery owner with his deep knowledge of art and the masters. 

“He came in fairly often.  He was a customer and came in frequently to use the library.

“He was more knowledgeable than most people about paintings,” Koman  said.

After Taylor was arrested, Koman said he did an extensive inventory of his own collection to see if Taylor had taken paintings from him as well.

Taylor never took the stand in his trial. 

With his wire fraud conviction, the jury also will also have to decide if he should forfeit $32,150 that was seized from the bank account of his girlfriend, Rebecca Larkin, in January. 

After Taylor’s arrest and transfer to California, Larkin moved to California to stay with him in the posh oceanside community of Marina del Ray.

Larkin, who is about 20 years younger than Taylor, may also face charges, prosecutors have told Vero Beach 32963. 

It was not clear from court records what happened to some $400,000 that agents say Taylor stashed in an off-shore  account in the Caribbean.

Federal prosecutors did not return repeated calls from Vero Beach 32963.

Taylor is scheduled to be sentenced on November 8, 2012, by United States District Judge John Kronstradt.

The wire fraud and possession of stolen property charges each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

The tax evasion charges each carry a statutory maximum of five years in federal prison, and the structuring charge carries a statutory maximum of 10 years because the crime was committed while Taylor was released on bond.

Taylor thus faces a maximum possible sentence of 55 years in federal prison.

Taylor initially faced more than 100 years behind bars when the former barrier island resident was arrested here last August.

But six of the counts that stemmed around money laundering as well as some of the wire fraud charges were dismissed before the trial.