July 24th, 2024

Thunder Bay, Ont., man gets 5-year sentence for role in Norval Morrisseau art fraud

By Sonja Puzic, The Canadian Press on December 14, 2023.

A sentencing hearing for one of several people charged in what's been called a historic case of art fraud is underway in a Thunder Bay, Ont., courtroom. A reporter walks past 'Androgyny' by Norval Morrisseau, right, and 'Tweaker' by Lawrence Paul Yuxweluptun during a media tour of the Canadian and Indigenous Art: 1968 to Present at the National Gallery of Canada's contemporary art galleries, in Ottawa, Tuesday, May 2, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

A Thunder Bay, Ont., man has received a five-year sentence for his role in what’s been called a historic case of art fraud.

Sixty-one-year-old Gary Lamont pleaded guilty earlier this month to two charges related to the discovery of hundreds of fraudulent artworks sold under the name of famous Indigenous artist Norval Morrisseau, who died in 2007.

A judge in Thunder Bay sentenced Lamont to five years, minus credit for time already spent in custody, which means he’ll serve four years behind bars.

Lamont has pleaded guilty to knowingly making a false document and defrauding the public in an amount exceeding $5,000.

An agreed statement of facts read in court today says the forged artwork was sold directly to individuals, collectors and art galleries from 2002 to 2015.

The statement says investigators have so far confirmed 190 forgeries among the works seized by police, and an “unknown number” of forgeries remains in circulation.

In March, Ontario Provincial Police announced that eight people had been arrested in the fraud investigation and that more than 1,000 allegedly fake paintings, prints and other artworks were seized in the probe that had gone on for two and a half years.

Police said at the time that those arrested faced a combined 40 charges, including forgery, and that five of the eight suspects were residents of Thunder Bay.

Morrisseau, also known as Copper Thunderbird, was a trailblazer for contemporary Indigenous artists across Canada. He had received numerous awards and honours, including the Order of Canada, and had a “profound influence” on the international art world, court heard.

According to the agreed statement of facts, Lamont knew Morrisseau personally and the artist had, on occasion, given Lamont his original artwork.

But from 2002 onwards, Lamont oversaw production of “hundreds of artworks” that were falsely attributed to Morrison and that carried forged signatures associated with the artist, court heard.

The Morrisseau estate said in a statement read in court that in addition to the massive financial toll of the fraud, the emotional toll is “immeasurable.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on Dec. 14, 2023.

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