ARE YOU FAUX REAL-Part 2:

ART CARNAGE — The True Story Of California Attorney Pierce O’Donnell, Lu Quan, The “Orlando Basquiat 25” & And “Helicopter”, Another “Lost Basquiat”

Between March 2012-December 2021, I wrote the crime/fraud blog “Glistening, Quivering Underbelly”. Specializing in the under-reported “dark underbelly of fraud, cons and scams”, the most notorious (and unflagging) con artist I covered was David Damante, a fraudster currently living in Sunny Isles Beach, Florida.

In Part I, I revealed the story of con artist David Damante and his link to Lumsden (Lu) Quan, a former San Francisco art gallery owner and close associate of Michael William Force, one of the two men (the other is John Leo Mangan III) who showed up at the Orlando Museum of Art with a collection of 25 “lost” Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings.

In early 2018, Lu Quan would be represented by Los Angeles attorney, Pierce O’Donnell, in a dispute over a “Basquiat” painting Quan purchased from a Costa Mesa, California, coin shop.

When David Met Lu

In April 2016, David Damante was sent to FCI Terminal Island, a prison located between San Pedro and Long Beach, California for violating the terms of his supervised release.

And that’s where David Damante met Lu Quan.

Quan was arrested in March 2014 as part of “Operation Crash,” a nation-wide crackdown in the illegal trafficking of rhinoceros horns, for his role in a conspiracy to “knowingly sell black rhinoceros horns across state lines”.

Pleading guilty August 21, 2015, Quan admitted to working with his co-defendant, Edward N. Levine, to transport two horns from California to Nevada, where they sold them to an undercover agent from Colorado for a sum of $55,000.

Levine’s criminal past dates back to the late 1970s, when he was indicted on cocaine trafficking charges along with Pablo Escobar.

He was finally arrested 18 years after the indictment, while using an alias and hiding $6 million in a safety deposit box, authorities said. He spent a few years behind bars and served about eight more on parole.

Then in April 2014, Levine was nabbed at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas as part of “Operation Crash,” a crackdown on illegal trafficking named for a crash, or herd, of rhinos.

According to federal court documents, Levine wanted to sell the horns for “an elderly, dying friend in northern California”. He connected with Quan, then a San Francisco-based art dealer.

Federal prosecutors revealed that Quan phoned Jay Conrad, known for trafficking in wildlife taxidermy, such as narwhal whale teeth, elephant tusks, monkey fingers, along with mounts of leopards, cougars, giraffes and black rhino horns.

In his January 20, 2014 email to Conrad, Quan stated “This is Lu,” the email began. “I got the giraffe from you.”

According to U.S. Justice Department officials, that email written to Conrad, a confidential informant regarding a taxidermied giraffe would initiate a scheme to sell two horns of the endangered black rhinoceros to a federal agent for $55,000 by Quan and his co-conspirator Levine.

“Here’s a few photos of Billy’s place,” Conrad, who has since died, wrote about a third party in an email to Quan. “Note the cool human finger necklace. Also, in the photo is a World War II trophy of a Jap head I sold Billy. And right below the head is the guy’s ID.”

But by that point, Conrad had started cooperating with the government.

Quan agreed to meet the buyer in Las Vegas during the Safari Club International Convention. That buyer was actually undercover agent Vance Jurgens, who told Quan and Levine to bring the horns across state lines (from California to Nevada), violating the Lacey and Endangered Species acts, for a $55,000 sale.

Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) agents arrested Lumsden Quan and Edward Levine on wildlife trafficking charges at the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa in Las Vegas in 2014.

In his January 20, 2014, email to Conrad, Quan reminded him that he had previously obtained a giraffe shoulder mount.

Now, Quan repeated the fictitious story first floated by Levine, claiming in the January 20, 2014 email that he knew of” an elderly gentleman in California who wanted to sell an antique set of rhino horns”.

Conrad, guided by his FWS handlers, expressed interest and asked for photos and measurements. “They look real nice,” Conrad subsequently enthused in a January 28, 2014, email. “They look like their [sic] from a black, which would cut down on the # of my people that’s willing to buy them. But they still will bring good $$$.”

In a tape-recorded January 30, 2014, phone call, Quan’s partner, Levine, told Conrad that the owner wanted $60,000 for the set of horns.

The informant cautioned that the sale would be illegal. “We got the picture,” Levine said, according to the subsequent criminal complaint. “We understand.”

The men communicated, as well, about the purchase of other wildlife parts, while the supposed customer known as “Larry” (later revealed to be Jurgens) subsequently phoned Quan on February 11 and expressed interest in the rhino horns.
Quan initially insisted that the transaction take place in California, while Larry suggested Oregon or, later, Las Vegas. Larry had his reasons for getting the traders to cross state lines — federal law enforcement required an interstate component.

On March 19, 2014 Quan flew to Las Vegas. The town was hopping with tourists and conventioneers, including participants in the Safari Club International’s annual event. According to government documents, at about 6:30 p.m. that day, Quan and Levine arrived at the South Point Hotel, a 2,100-room establishment located off the Strip.

Levine remained elsewhere, while Quan and Larry went to a hotel room.
Four hidden audio and video recording devices captured what went down.
Larry was, in fact, FWS Special Agent Vance Jurgens, a seasoned, Denver-based investigator who had joined the agency in 2001.

Quan entered the room with a silver-toned suitcase containing the two horns and a black briefcase for the cash.

Prior to the exchange, Quan and the agent discussed art and other topics including that Quan had previously sold a set of black rhino horns to the agent — as well as two other sets of black rhino horns to other buyers. (Government documents indicate Quan had been trafficking in wildlife since 2010.).

According to court records, when the agent presented Quan with a cloth sack containing $55,000, Quan told him that “he had promised Levine that he would count the money before he left the hotel room.”

After counting the money, Quan put the money in the briefcase and attempted to leave the hotel room, but federal agents arrested him before he could do so.

Levine, who’d waited in the parking lot while Quan entered the hotel, was arrested while he was sitting in the lounge of the hotel’s casino and clammed up.

On December 16, 2015, former San Francisco art dealer Lumsden Quan was sentenced to a year and two days’ incarceration, followed by three years’ supervised release for his role in the illegal sale of black rhinoceros horns. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate locator, Quan was released from custody on July 26, 2017.

Quan was fined $10,000 and banned from any work in the art and antique business until June 2020 under the terms of his release — a condition he appears to have violated with his direct involvement in 2017/2018 art fraud scam executed with David Damante.

Pierce O’Donnell

When Pierce Defended Lu

Years before Los Angeles attorney Pierce O’Donnell was swanning through the Orlando Museum of Art’s “Heroes & Monsters” exhibit showcasing “25 never-before-seen paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat”, kvelling to the New York Times that he’d “purchased an interest in six of the 25 paintings after Force, who had read about his authentication efforts on behalf of a disputed Jackson Pollock painting , approached him for help with the Basquiats”, he was slumming in Scottsdale.

Shortly after David Damante was released from prison in California in 2017, he returned to Las Vegas, and began using the last name ‘Diamante’.

According to the document shown above, (Damante showed up at Art Encounter, a Las Vegas “art gallery”, on March 3, 2017 to retrieve a painting described as “Helicopter by Jean Michele [sic] Basquiat”.

A born fabulist, Damante had already built the foundation of his Basquiat scheme with an elaborate, and implausible, origin story.

Described by Brett Revell in this July 31, 2017 affidavit, he claimed the unnamed painting was given to him by Damante’s father, who asked Revell to “hold the package in safe keeping for his son David Damante”.

Oooh! Spooky!

That has the ring of truth, right?

I don’t know that I would trust someone who lived at the time in the Pleasant Valley Mobile Home Community (AKA ‘trailer park’) to securely handle a work of art ostensibly worth millions.

And here’s another thing: Revell asserted in his affidavit that he “stored the package in my home in Las Vegas, NV until October 2016 whereupon I was instructed to drop the package off at a gallery in Las Vegas called Art Encounters”.

Well, who instructed him to take the package to “Art Encounters”, a Las Vegas commercial strip storefront with a name similar to a low-rent massage parlor?

It appears it wasn’t Angelo Damante, who passed away in early May 2016.

Hmmm?

Now that’s a question I’d love to have answered.

In his affidavit, dated September 27, 2017, David Damante, now using the surname ‘Diamante’, asserted the following about the Basquiat painting titled “Helicopter Cityscape”: “the above referenced Basquiat was a gift from my father Angelo who left it to me prior to his passing in May 6, 2016.”

Although Damante later would claim in a September 27, 2017 affidavit that he’d inherited the painting from his late father, who’d purchased it sight unseen at a storage facility auction, the painting actually came from Lu Quan.

At Damante’s request (made during their shared prison stint), Quan shipped the painting to the Las Vegas location shown above, Art Encounter.

Aided by Las Vegas attorney, Scott Michael Cantor, Damante/Diamante signed false affidavits, obtained an appraisal from a woman falsely portraying herself as an official member of the American Society of Appraisers (ASA), used forged letters reputed to have been issued by the Authentication Committee of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat, and created forged insurance documents purportedly issued by a British firm specializing in cargo and freight liability.

Damante’s first victims, Rick Belcastro and Brandon Holmes, signed a formal “Transfer Agreement” on August 15, 2017. Belcastro, the former owner of the Badda Bing, a Las Vegas strip club, died on January 28, 2018.

But, unlike Belcastro, Damante’s fugazi Basquiat scam didn’t go tits-up.

Damante claimed to own several works of art by the late Jean-Michel Basquiat, including Crack Apple Night, Swampland Children, Nero and Legal.

David Damante, 2018 photograph in warehouse at Art Encounter in Las Vegas with “Crack Apple Night”, a purported Basquiat. Art Encounter would later list the painting for sale at $18,000,000; screen grab shown below was taken on June 29, 2018.

In the August 15, 2017 “Transfer and Conveyance of Proceeds and Security Agreeement”, Damante sold an interest in the Basquiat artwork he claimed to own, known by the working title “Helicopter”.

Belcastro and Holmes advanced Damante $25,000, and in exchange for a $335,000 note, Damante offered the pair a 2.5% interest in the artwork.

Later, according to an “Addendum To Petition” filed June 28, 2018 by federal prosecutors, David Damante, on June 5, 2018, as managing member for New Mexico-based Sinuessa Fine Art, LLC, executed a financial document titled “Agreement”, conveying a work of art referenced to as “Helicopter” to a “Lumsden Quan”. (Although the “Agreement” document was never made public, the “Petition” show below confirms its existence.)

The entire tale was featured on my crime/fraud blog, “Glistening, Quivering Underbelly” in a July 2018 three-installment series I dubbed “Paint By Numbers” (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), if you’d really like to get into the weeds.

According to the June 5, 2018 document referenced above, the conveyance of the painting was purportedly the resolution of a dispute between the two parties “regarding ownership of an unfinished work for art attributed to the late artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, that being, a mixed media work in paint, spray paint, and oil stick on wood panel, measuring 64” x 48”, known by the working titles of “Helicopter” and “Helicopter Cityscape” — Quan and Damante both claimed ownership of the single original artwork.

But that “conveyance” document was just an expedient cover for a scam even larger than the one involving the “Badda Bing” boys: the May 2018 auction of “Helicopter” by a Scottsdale-based auction house.

The starting bid was $5,000,000.

Later today, Part 3, “FAKES, FORGERIES, FUGAZI” the final installment of this story.

Here’s a preview:

My investigation reveals evidence that strongly suggests one person who wrote a character reference letter on Lu Quan’s behalf — Michael William Force (under the alias W. Michael Force) — played a role in the scam executed in California and Nevada by David Damante, and the one slowly unwinding in Orlando.

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