Entertainment & Arts

Jasper John's assistant jailed for theft

Jasper Johns' Three Flags Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Artist Jasper Johns is known for his portrayal of the US flag

A former assistant to US artist Jasper Johns has been sentenced to 18 months in prison after admitting he stole artworks from Johns' studio.

James Meyer, 53, confessed to stealing 22 unfinished pieces and selling them to a New York gallery.

"I am truly devastated that I destroyed the close relationship that I had with the man who was my mentor, employer and friend," he said in court in New York.

Meyer was ordered to pay restitution of $13.5m (£8.9m) to Johns and others.

Johns, 84, is best known for sculptures and paintings of the American flag, including one that sold at auction last year for a record $36m (£23.7m).

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Johns was awarded the Congressional Medal of Freedom in 2011 for his influence on American art

Meyer was an assistant in Johns' Connecticut studio for 25 years, from the age of 21.

In August 2014, he pleaded guilty to one count of interstate transportation of stolen property and admitted moving artworks from the studio to an art gallery in Manhattan between 2006 and 2012.

"I took for granted and betrayed someone who will forever have great meaning in my life. For that, I have profound remorse,'' Meyer told the courtroom.

Johns had asked Meyer to destroy some of the works, and had not given any authorisation for them to be sold.

Meyer - who arranged to have around 40 pieces sold through a New York gallery - told the unidentified gallery owner the incomplete works had been personal gifts from Johns, and provided fake documentation.

He also created fake inventory numbers and pages in a ledger book of registered Johns artwork to further assure the gallery owner the works were authorised.

Meyer received approximately $4m (£2.6m) from the sale of the artworks by the gallery. In court on Thursday, Meyer was ordered to forfeit the amount he made from the sales, as well as paying the $13.5m (£8.9m) to compensate the artist and four unidentified buyers.

Prosecutors said one buyer who agreed to return the artworks to Johns had spent over $7m (£4.6m) on them.

After his arrest in August 2013, Meyer cooperated with the government and helped recover stolen works from the buyers, prosecutors said. He also turned over 41 additional works that investigators did not know about.

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