Damien Hirst, whose "Six Butterflies Suite" was purchased at a Georgetown gallery with a stolen credit card number. Photograph via 360b / Shutterstock.com
A former waiter at a Georgetown restaurant will serve more than three years in jail after pleading guilty to some very tasteful credit card fraud. Kevin Tyrone Washington, 48, was sentenced today in DC Superior Court for stealing four credit card numbers from diners at Thunder Burger, and using one of them to purchase $46,000 worth of artwork from a nearby gallery last October. Washington had an eye for modernism and contemporary work—his acquisitions included two pieces by Pablo Picasso and etchings by Henri Matisse and Damien Hirst.
Washington’s tastes also ran to expensive jewelry, including diamond stud earrings, a wedding band, a diamond cross and a 16-inch gold chain he purchased from a store in downtown DC using another victim’s card.
According to Washington’s plea deal, he would call in the orders with the stolen card number, then sign receipts when he picked up the jewelry. When the actual cardholder reported the fraudulent payments, American Express charged back the store for Washington’s purchases, costing the jeweler $6,900.
Washington obtained most of the artwork the same way. After viewing the works at Gallery Lareuse, he called up the art dealer and provided a card number over the phone, and asked that the pictures be delivered to his home as a surprise for his girlfriend. The dealer took down the number, and that evening sent over the Matisse, the Hirst, and one of the Picassos, according to proseuctors’ documents.
Washington paid for the other Picasso, an etching titled “Tete et Figures,” with a check drawn on an account under the name Bleu Pearl LLC, which he said was a restaurant he owned.
But the art was not for Washington’s girlfriend, or even to decorate his restaurant. In fact, he didn’t hold onto it for very long. American Express contacted the Georgetown gallery after the actual cardholder reported the charges, and the gallery then tried to track down Washington. (It also called the Metropolitan Police Department to report the fraudulent purchases.) Washington eventually called back the gallery five days after the purchases and told the dealer he hocked the works a pawn shop in Vienna, Virginia. He got $3,303 for the four pieces.
Washington was less of an aesthete with the other two cards, using them to pay for storage and car repair services.
In addition to the credit card fraud, Washington pleaded guilty to a check-kiting scheme in which he drew $24,000 from six different bank accounts. From March 2012 to February 2013, Washington and another individual wrote large, phony checks in hopes of padding the balances and withdrawing the cash before the checks could be returned for having been written on insufficient or closed accounts.
Prosecutors’ documents say art gallery figured out who Washington was after Googling his name and finding an article about Washington being arrested on Valentine’s Day 2012 at a Vienna plastic surgery clinic
while attempting to use a stolen card to pay for a procedure his girlfriend received there the previous month.
Washington pleaded guilty in August. He will serve 38 months in prison and will also have to pay back about $39,900 to the businesses and banks he ripped off.
As for the artworks, they were returned to the gallery. The Picassos and the Matisse are no longer listed on Galerie Lareuse’s website, but the one by Hirst, “Six Butterflies Suite” is still listed, with the price available on request. (Washington “paid” $7,690, according to prosecutors.)