The fifth richest man in Orange County (yes, the top five are all men) and 184th richest person in the country (per Forbes in 2013) has been ordered to pay a sculptor $450,000 because instead of paying the full price for an original piece of artwork, the billionaire had a Chinese artist make a copy.
Igor Olenicoff, who previously found himself in the headlines for shielding $200 million of his fortune from the IRS, had placed the ripped-off version of Monrovia artist Don Wakefield's piece, in front of the Laguna Beach developer's Olen Properties office in Newport Beach. Wakefield happened to be outside the Olen offices at Seven Corporate Plaza in 2011 when he stumbled upon what he thought was the granite, 6×4-foot sculpture Untitled that he and artist friend Joseph "Chick" Glickman designed and created together in 1992. Having solicited California developers as potential buyers of his work, Wakefield assumed it was an original that the Newport Beach company had purchased from a dealer.
But Wakefield soon discovered other copies of his sculptures had begun popping up and, upon further investigation, discovered what appeared to be Untitled in front of Olen Properties was being called Human Natures: Many Faces, was dated 2005 and was credited to a Chinese artist named Zhou Hong. Other copies of Untitled and other Wakefield works–six total–were later discovered an Olen properties in Irvine and Brea.
The artist sued for copyright infringement in 2012 and recently won in federal court in Santa Ana.
Meanwhile, Olenicoff is being sued by another sculptor. John Raimondi alleges the tycoon contacted him back in 2001 to commission large-scale versions of his works and later sent two representatives who were given detailed photos and drawings of the works. But Olenicoff went on to cancel further meetings about the commission, Raimondi claims.
Then, around September 2010, Raimondi says he contacted by the City of Brea, where officials noticed works at Olenicoff buildings in that city resembled his works but were credited to a Chinese artist. Raimondi's suit alleges that at no time did he authorize Olenicoff to manufacture, replicate or publicly display his sculptures.
By the way, the U.S. government has used its successful 2012 prosecution of Olenicoff for hiding $200 million of his assets in a Swiss bank as fodder to strengthen laws making it harder for Americans to keep their wealth from being taxed.