}

Thursday, January 24, 2019

WHITE NOISE AND THE “TEFLON CON”: Making The Case For The Next Federal Case Against David Damante

David Damante, "Crack Apple Nights"
“Despite multiple chances to change his pattern of behavior, and despite express warnings that the consequences would become more severe, Damante flouted the district court’s leniency and racked up numerous fraud-related violations.”

 Government's Answering Brief,
December 19, 2018
David Damante Appeal 

In the federal government's December 19, 2018 response to David Damante’s Ninth Circuit appeal of his 14-month probation violation sentence, an Assistant United States Attorney noted that the “district court noted at the outset that the available supervised release term of 36 months was reduced by the prior 10-month sentence imposed during the first revocation (i.e., to 26-months), and would be further reduced by any term of incarceration imposed during the hearing.” 

However, the document noted that the “court then reviewed the allegations Damante admitted and disregarded the “so-called white noise” about the convoluted history regarding ownership interests of the two paintings.” (Crack Apple Nights and Helicopter Cityscape.) 

While seeming to reduce the controversy about the ownership of those paintings to mere “white noise,” the document also pointedly recognized that “a lot of this white noise may not be white,” but rather that it could be “realistic noise,” because “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” 

It’s time for the federal government put out that fire, and investigate Damante’s pivotal role in a massive, multi-state, multi-million dollar art fraud scheme. 

This first installment of my new series states the case for prosecuting Damante, based on my exclusive investigation, and also reveals previously-unknown players and secret deals made behind the scenes. 

Let’s get started. 

In federal court documents, David Damante admitted that, beginning one month after his release from custody in January 2017, he executed numerous financial agreements and incurred substantial debt related to a work of art, “Helicopter Cityscape”—including an agreement with one Heidi Hegg. 

In his May 30, 2018 agreement, Damante stated he was indebted to Hegg (described in federal court documents filed by Damante’s attorney as a “former girlfriend”), “in the amount of $375,000” whereas this “debt” was secured by assigning to Hegg “an interest in a work of art attributed to the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat known by the working title “Helicopter” or “Helicopter Cityscape” purportedly owned by Damante”. 

Damante did not have the approval of the probation officer to incur this debt, or consummate this financial agreement. 

But although Hegg was apparently swindled by Damante, she still did him a big, fat favor.

According to a brief filed November 28, 2018 on Damante’s behalf in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Hegg submitted a rebuttal affidavit that supported Damante’s claim that he was being threatened by a man named Joe Purcell, whose emails and phone calls to Damante made him “physically ill”.

Wait, what? 

How did we get here? 

By January 2018, David Damante’s probation officer had filed a petition and addendum to revoke Damante’s supervision. 

Of the 14 allegations outlined in those documents, Damante admitted to eight

But during his first hearing, Damante insisted that all of his violations arose because a man named Joe Purcell had been threatening, extorting, and blackmailing him with regard to the two works of art (“Helicopter Cityscape” and “Crack Apple Nights”) purportedly valued at $2 million and $18 million, respectively. 

In her sworn document, Hegg “corroborated the hold that Purcell had on Damante. Hegg explained that Purcell’s calls immediately changed Damante’s demeanor, with Damante becoming quiet and withdrawn.”

Hegg stated Damante ultimately “lost his appetite, with frequent nausea and insomnia”. 

Damante also told Hegg that if he did not immediately respond to Purcell, Purcell would escalate his threats.” 

On May 30, 2018, Damante, as managing member of a shadowy New Mexico-based shell corporation, Sinuessa Fine Art, LLC, executed a financial agreement titled “Settlement Agreement, Assignment and Release”. 


According to this agreement, Damante is “indebted to a Heide [sic] Hegg in the amount of $375,000 whereas this “debt” was secured by assigning to Hegg “an interest in a work of art attributed to the late artist Jean Michel Basquiat known by the working title “Helicopter” or “Helicopter Cityscape” purportedly owned by Damante. (Damante obtained the “Helicopter” painting from Lumsden (Lu) Quan, a San Francisco resident who served time with Damante at California’s Terminal Island prison.)

Damante did not have the approval of the probation officer to incur this debt, or consummate this financial agreement. 

So why did Hegg, who works as an insurance agent in Nevada and an “Asset Planning Advisor” in that highly-regulated financial industry, and apparently provided Damante with up to $375,000 in early 2018, submit a sworn document in a federal case affirming what was later shown to be overwhelmingly false? 

She’s not talking—at least not to me

On Tuesday, January 22, I sent Hegg an email, giving her a 48-hour window to respond before publication of this story. 

Hegg ignored my email, and has not responded as I publish this story. However, my offer to share her side is still open. 

Here is an excerpt from that message, with email addresses redacted: 

Next week, more on this scheme, including never-before disclosed details about Damante's scheme and its prominent members.