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Friday, July 6, 2018

PAINT BY NUMBERS: David Damante's Scheme To Sell Art He Didn't Own Using Forged Documents Created By A Las Vegas Mouthpiece Working Both Sides Of The Street!


“Please don't give this story anymore light. Who knows, for all we know, he might be going into witness protection. Very strong possibility.”

During a June 29, 2018 court hearing, Las Vegas-based con man David Damante (left) admitted violating multiple conditions of his supervised release, including using his purported ownership of two Jean-Michel Basquiat paintings to fraudulently obtain nearly $500,000 from three victims between March and June of this year.

In advance of his scheduled probation revocation hearing this morning in U. S. District Court in Las Vegas, I'm breaking the news that Damante's scheme began at least one year ago.

In Part 3 of my exclusive series (you can catch up with Part 1 and Part 2, if you missed them), I am publishing even more shocking documents, with exclusive details about Las Vegas attorney Scott Michael Cantor, the inside story about San Francisco art dealer, Lumsden (Lu) Quan and his potential role in the scam, and this not-so-veiled threat, warning me to dummy up:

But I'm getting ahead of myself; more about the “red herring” email later in this post. 


In his September 27, 2017 affidavit, David Damante, using the surname 'Diamante', asserted ownership of the Basquiat painting titled “Helicopter Cityscape”: “the above referenced Basquiat was a gift from my father Angelo who left it to me prior to his passing in May 6, 2016.”

The painting, purportedly taken by Damante's associate Brett Revell in October 2016 to a Las Vegas gallery he dubbed “Art Encounters” (adding an unnecessary 's'), was picked up several months later by Damante.

How do I know that?

Well, Damante proffered this crudely faked document as proof—if only he'd spelled the artist's name correctly!

For the record, it's Jean-Michel—with a hyphen and without an 'e'.

If Scott Ferguson didn't sign that document, tick another count in Damante's forgery column!

But that's not the only time someone may have forged Ferguson's name on a document in this scheme (I'm talking about you, Lumsden Quan).

Prepping for his big score, Damante, with obvious assistance from Las Vegas attorney Scott Michael Cantor, created the legal documents needed to scam Belcastro and Holmes, and unknown others in the ensuing months.

After purportedly retrieving the Helicopter painting (shown at left) from Art Encounter, Damante arranged to store the artwork with Global Art Transport, also located in Las Vegas.

The lease agreement, signed on June 12, 2017 by David R. Damante, states he is the CEO of a New Mexico corporation, Sinuessa Fine Art, LLC.

If Damante really stored a painting, as outlined in the five-page agreement, where did it come from?  

And why aren't the federal authorities looking for it?

Is it possible Cantor and Damante commissioned a fake Basquiat, a giclee knock-off that could be stored in a climate-controlled warehouse and trotted out to the rubes who would go all jelly-kneed at the sight of a multi-million dollar treasure formerly owned (if you believe David Damante's origin story) by a man who worked for 28 years as the general manager for a Sausalito-based grocery chain?

As you can see from the memo shown below, attached to the storage contract, Global Art's Diana Judson confirms that “the work has been softpacked and slipcased”, so there's something being stored at her warehouse.

Damante, using the fake authentication and valuation created for him by art appraiser Katherine Thatcher Langer, created a phony insurance policy, supposedly issued by the Lonham Group, which valued the painting at $13,400,000—under a phony name, David Diamante. 

Layer upon layer upon fake layer—a cake frosted with fraud.

It's clear Damante either didn't realize, or care, that Lonham Group didn't underwrite policies in the United States and only focused its business on cargo and freight liability: shipping, baby, not fake paintings! 

Cantor and Damante kept the scheme rolling along after the untimely January 28, 2018 death of its first victim, Rick Belcastro, but ran into a bump in the road—Lumsden (Lu) Quan.

And here's where the story takes weird—and dark—turns. 

Weird because Quan would claim ownership of Helicopter, the same Basquiat painting as Damante, with dark delivered in an email threat.

More fake documents, and an initially tantalizing “red herring”, were served up over the last several weeks to me by a reader using the pseudonym Ta Bu.

However, all that glitters may just be fishy, as I found out. 


The idiom “red herring” is used to refer to something that misleads or distracts from the relevant or important issue. 

It may be either a logical fallacy or a literary device that leads readers or characters towards a false conclusion. 

A red herring might be intentionally used, such as in mystery fiction or as part of a rhetorical strategy, or it could be inadvertently used during argumentation as a result of poor logic. 

And that's how we arrive at this turning point in the story, where con man meets con man, and one has to settle up with the other after both claim ownership of the same artwork.

On June 5, 2018, as managing member for Sinuessa Fine Art, LLC, Damante executed a financial document titled “Agreement” wherein he conveyed a work of art referenced to as “Helicopter” to Lumsden (Lu) Quan. 

Quan is a San Francisco-based art dealer who was sentenced on December 16, 2015, to one year and two days stretch in federal stir for knowingly selling black rhinoceros horns to an undercover agent of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. 

According to June 5 document, the conveyance of the painting was the resolution of a dispute between the two parties “regarding ownership of an unfinished work for art attributed to the late artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, that being, a mixed media work in paint, spray paint, and oil stick on wood panel, measuring 64” x 48”, known by the working titles of “Helicopter” and “Helicopter Cityscape”—Quan and Damante both claimed ownership of the single original artwork.

How crazy is that, two shady dudes both claiming each has the only Basquiat Helicopter painting?

How can that be, unless one is fake?

Or both are fake?

Here's Lumsden Quan, just rattling around, minding his own business, selling black rhino horns to an undercover federal agent, getting busted and going to federal prison for a year.

Who knew the cat had stumbled upon the find of a lifetime back in 2012: an original Basquiat, allegedly purchased by Quan from Steve Stilgenbauer's Coast Coin & Collectables shop in Costa Mesa, California.

I'm not making this shit up, and that's really Stilgenbauer (left) posing in front of his store.

The blog reader, using the name 'Ta Bu', began communicating directly with me on June 23, 2018, when she sent me this message: “hi, sadly our web got entangled by the poisonous David Damante. I heard he is in jail, since yesterday. No details. Can you get on the case and keep us informed of your findings? Thanks” 

Get on the case? This isn't The New York Times, and you aren't my Managing Editor, toots!

I responded, telling Ta Bu I would see what I could find out.

On June 26, 2018, I broke the news of Damante's arrest and sent Ta Bu a link.

On June 28, I sent Ta Bu a private Facebook message, suggesting that since she may have incriminating evidence, she should consider contacting Assistant U. S. Attorney, Robert Knief, who is prosecuting Damante's probation revocation case.

Ta Bu never acknowledged or commented on my recommendation.

I sent her links to my subsequent coverage and finally heard from Ta Bu again on Thursday, July 6, shortly after sending her a link to the July 5 teaser post for this series.

In a message to me, she stated:  

“I'm concerned about the information you are going to be putting on the internet. I've been involved in bringing awareness to the auction house that the provenance and phony documents were stolen from us. 

Damante used the provenance that belongs to us to attach to his works. I was involved in bringing this to light. 

I would hate our information to get any more publicity. We are so angered by this act. 

Anyone desiring to add provenance to a work or art can now steal our provenance and contact those individuals. Damante has caused us great harm.”

She continued:  

“There is more to Damante's story. Tomorrow hearing may be very enlightening. I'm asking if you would be willing to share what you are going to be putting out there. There is a group working very heard to clean up Damante's mess and restoring the victims. 

I would really HATE to see something you put together infringe on that. 

You can't imagine the hours invested to clean this up. 

Damante never had the right to helicopter. 

Our friend owned that painting. Damante told him he had cancer and our friend gave Damante 20% of the painting so he could borrow money on it. Never gave him the authority to sell it. 

It was all a shock when we saw it up for sell. We really need to keep a lid on this. 

I have some inside info that will be of great interest, but I'm not privy to share. 

It's all very mind blowing. I have taken some heat for bringing this to your attention. 

This is bigger than just Damante. Please consider holding any future info on this case. For everyone's best interest.” 

Taking another stab at convincing me to hold off publishing my new revelations, Ta Bu stated:   

“I've probably seen most of the documents you are looking at. 

Seen the fake foundation letter. 

I have been working with the individual cleaning this mess up and with my info and his info we figured out what he was doing. Perhaps your info would share more light. the photo is first page of the certificate of authentication from Art Encounter. They are legit people who were also victimized. All of us were.” 

Gee, after barking and moaning about Damante allegedly using “their provenance”, Ta Bu sent me an image of a letter purportedly signed by Art Encounter's Scott L. Ferguson on June 14, 2018, with the header (you guessed it) PROVENANCE!

The document outlined Helicopter's chain of ownership, asserting Quan's claim to the disputed Basquiat painting.

Since the image is very low-res, I've reproduced its claims below, with misspelled words intact:

This work of art has a known and definable history of ownership.

The above-described work of art, entitled, HELICOPTER 1982, was originally purchased directly from the artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, by known, Emmy Award winning writer, Mr. Thaddeus Quentin Mumford, Jr., in 1982. It is commonly known, and a matter of public record, that Thaddeus Mumford was a close personal friend of Jean-Michel Basquiat. 

Mr. Mumford purchased many paintings from Basquiat in the early 1980’s and stored these paintings in different storage lockers located at Oritz Bros. Moving and Storage, 141 W Avenue 34, Los Angeles, California. 

Enrique and Mecedes Blanco acquired the painting by purchasing several storage units once owned by Mr. Thaddeus Quentin Mumford through Michael Bazman of Bazman Auctions in 2012 at the Oritz Bros. Moving and Storage. 

Stephen Stilgenbauer purchased the Helicopter painting in the summer of 2012 directly from Enrigue and Mecedes Blanco. 

On Oct 22, 2012 Lumsden Quan purchased the Helicopter painting from Stephen Stilgenbauer, of Gold Coast Coin and Collectibles, of Costa Mesa California. 

On 5/7/2018 Lumsden Quan transferd 100% rights title and interest in the Basquiat painting known as Helicopter to Mary and Gary Robinson of 13043 Moody River Pkwy, North Fort Myers, FL.33903 

The seller passes good, clear title to the painting, free and clear of all liens, pledges, charges, security interests, encumbrances, adverse claims, options, equities or restrictions of any kind to this work of art, entitled, HELICOPTER, painted by artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat, at the time of purchase, along with this only existing stamped copy of certificate of authenticity.

Late yesterday evening, I received an email from Ta Bu, where (pulling no punches) she admitted being a friend of Lu Quan, while raising the specter of  “the Italian gang” and ordering me not to give the story any more “light”.

Too bad for her I didn't listen. 

In addition to more light, I just added some heat.

Who gon' check me, boo?

Not you!

Expect a wrap up once the feds announce the results of David Damante's hearing today in Las Vegas.

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