[UPDATED with Artist Clarifying Work's Value:] Igor Olenicoff, Laguna Beach Billionaire, Sued by Sculptor Over Chinese Knock-Offs of Art
See the update at the end of this post where the artist claims the value of one piece cited in the original post is nearly triple what was reported.
ORIGINAL POST, DEC. 10, 11:07 A.M.: The last time we checked in with Igor Olenicoff, he was being sued by an IRS whistleblower the Laguna Beach billionaire had previously sued for steering $200 million of his fortune into offshore bank accounts, bringing him a $52 million fine and the whistleblower a $104 million government windfall.
Olenicoff's legal team may soon be billing for overtime, as their client is now being sued by a Monrovia sculptor who claims the Olen Properties chief possesses seven illegal knock-offs of his work.
In Wakefield vs. Olenicoff in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana, Don Wakefield accuses Olenicoff and Olen Properties, the Newport Beach real estate firm the billionaire founded, of copyright infringement.
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Wakefield previously turned up in the Weekly in July 2011 after he stumbled upon what he at first thought was the large-scale, granite sculpture Untitled he and artist friend Joseph "Chick" Glickman designed and created together in 1992. It was outside Olen's offices at Seven Corporate Plaza in Newport Beach but, upon closer inspection, it turned out the 6-x-4-foot work was a fake.
Further investigation by Wakefield revealed the copy had apparently been made by an anonymous Chinese stone carver in Beijing, where it was renamed Human Natures: Many Faces, and that seven other phonies based on his work were in the Olenicoff art stable, according to court documents.
In his suit, Wakefield accuses Olenicoff of arranging to have the artist's work copied in China and later presented to the Public Art Department in the City of Brea--and to the public in general--as the work of a Chinese artist. That not only would have saved Olenicoff tens of thousands of dollars, it would have totally cut out the designer and creator of the original, Wakefield alleges.
For a frame of reference, we reported in our original story that it was believed a knock-off of Untitled would cost $1,250 (or $950 each for three) in China, while it would cost $35,000 for Wakefield to produce a copy based on the original.
Wakefield claims his investigation also uncovered several unauthorized copies of two different sculptures by East Coast artist John Raimondi. Both artists are represented in the suit by Gene Brockland of St. Louis and Mike Kuznetsky of Los Angeles, and they call it the largest artwork copyright case in the nation's history, at least in terms of physical size, as one of the disputed pieces stands 25 feet tall.
As the Weekly reported last week, Olenicoff is also being sued in the Santa Ana federal court for alleged malicious prosecution by Bradley Birkenfeld, the former UBS AG banker-turned-whistleblower whose ex-company also sued Olenicoff on the same grounds. Olenicoff had sued Biekenfeld and UBS of Zurich, Switzerland, separately--after Olenicoff and UBS were ordered to pay tens of millions of dollars each by judges in Santa Ana, thanks to evidence Birkenfeld provided to federal prosecutors.
UPDATE, DEC. 11, 4:14 P.M.: I received an email from Don Wakefield that states: "You mention in your article that it would cost $35,000 to reproduce the sculpture [Untitled] today. That was the approximant price that was paid for the work back in 1992. It would be well over $100,000 today."
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