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Monday, July 9, 2018

CON ARTISTS AND THEIR ART CONS: Really Real...Or Really Fake? “Glistening, Quivering Underbelly” Reveals Exclusive Details Of A New Basquiat Art Fraud


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

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

According to the 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. 

After receiving an email threat on July 5 from Taryn Burns, I began investigating Quan, Burns and their shared past—and discovered a multi-million dollar art forgery scam, a man with ties to the former Colombian drug cartel and a mini-submarine.


On December 16, 2015, former San Francisco art dealer Lumsden Quan was sentenced to a year and two days’ incarceration, followed by three years’ supervised release for his role in the illegal sale of black rhinoceros horns. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate locator, Quan was released from custody on July 26, 2017.

Quan was fined $10,000 and banned from any work in the art and antique business until June 2020 under the terms of his release—a condition he appears to have violated with his involvement in an art fraud scam executed by David Damante.

Quan's business associate, fellow California resident Taryn Burns, seemingly confirmed his prohibited behavior in her July 5, 2018 email to me (left), which also leveled a distinct threat—“don’t give this story anymore light” or I'd displease the “Italian gang” purportedly extorting David Damante.

Quan was arrested in March 2014 as part of “Operation Crash,” a nation-wide crackdown in the illegal trafficking of rhinoceros horns, for his role in a conspiracy to knowingly sell black rhinoceros horns across state lines. 

Pleading guilty August 21, 2015, Quan admitted to working with his co-defendant, Edward N. Levine, to transport two horns from California to Nevada, where they sold them to an undercover agent from Colorado for a sum of $55,000. 

Levine’s criminal past dates back to the late 1970s, when he was indicted on cocaine trafficking charges along with Pablo Escobar.

He was finally arrested 18 years after the indictment, while using an alias and hiding $6 million in a safety deposit box, authorities said. He spent a few years behind bars and served about eight more on parole. 

Then in April 2014, Levine was nabbed at the South Point Hotel in Las Vegas as part of “Operation Crash,” a crackdown on illegal trafficking named for a crash, or herd, of rhinos.

According to court documents, Levine wanted to sell the horns for an elderly, dying friend in northern California. He connected with Quan, a San Francisco-based art dealer. 

The government revealed that Quan phoned Jay Conrad, known for trafficking in wildlife taxidermy, such as narwhal whale teeth, elephant tusks, monkey fingers, along with mounts of leopards, cougars, giraffes and black rhino horns. 

In his January 20, 2014 email to Conrad, Quan stated "This is Lu," the email began. "I got the giraffe from you." 

According to U.S. Justice Department officials, that email written to Conrad, a confidential informant regarding a taxidermied giraffe, would initiate by Quan and his co-conspirator, Edward N. Levine, a scheme to sell two horns of the endangered black rhinoceros to a federal agent for $55,000. 

“Here’s a few photos of Billy’s place,” Conrad, who has since died, wrote about a third party in an email to Quan. 

“Note the cool human finger necklace. Also, in the photo is a World War II trophy of a Jap head I sold Billy. And right below the head is the guy’s ID.” 

But by that point, Conrad had started cooperating with the government. 

Quan agreed to meet the buyer in Las Vegas during the Safari Club International Convention. That buyer was actually undercover agent Vance Jurgens, who told Quan and Levine to bring the horns across state lines, violating the Lacey and Endangered Species acts, for a $55,000 sale.  


Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) agents arrested Lumsden Quan and Edward Levine on wildlife trafficking charges at the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa in Las Vegas in 2014. 

In his January 20, 2014, email to Conrad, Quan reminded him that he had previously obtained a giraffe shoulder mount. 

Now, Quan wrote (repeating the fictitious story first floated by Levine), he knew of an elderly gentleman in California who wanted to sell an antique set of rhino horns. 

Conrad, guided by his FWS handlers, expressed interest and asked for photos and measurements. “They look real nice,” Conrad subsequently enthused in a January 28, 2014, email. “They look like their from a black, which would cut down on the # of my people that's willing to buy them. But they still will bring good $$$.” 

In a tape-recorded January 30, 2014, phone call, Quan's partner, Levine, told Conrad that the owner wanted $60,000 for the set of horns. 

The informant cautioned that the sale would be illegal. “We got the picture,” Levine said, according to the subsequent criminal complaint. “We understand.” 

The men communicated, as well, about the purchase of other wildlife parts, while the supposed customer known as “Larry” subsequently phoned Quan on February 11 and expressed interest in the rhino horns. 

Quan initially insisted that the transaction take place in California, while Larry suggested Oregon or, later, Las Vegas. Larry had his reasons for getting the traders to cross state lines—federal law enforcement required an interstate component. 

On March 19, Quan flew to Las Vegas. The town was hopping with tourists and conventioneers, including participants in the Safari Club International's annual event. 

According to government documents, at about 6:30 p.m. that day, Quan and Levine arrived at the South Point Hotel, a 2,100-room establishment located off the Strip. 

Levine remained elsewhere, while Quan and Larry went to a hotel room. 

Four hidden audio and video recording devices captured what went down. 

Larry was, in fact, FWS Special Agent Vance Jurgens, a seasoned, Denver-based investigator who had joined the agency in 2001. 

Quan entered the room with a silver-toned suitcase containing the two horns and a black briefcase for the cash. 

Prior to the exchange, Quan and the agent discussed art and other topics including that Quan had previously sold a set of black rhino horns to the agent — as well as two other sets of black rhino horns to other buyers. (Government documents indicate Quan had been trafficking in wildlife since 2010.). 

According to court records, when the agent presented Quan with a cloth sack containing $55,000, Quan told him that “he had promised Levine that he would count the money before he left the hotel room.” 

After counting the money, Quan put the money in the briefcase and attempted to leave the hotel room, but federal agents arrested him before he could do so. 

Levine, who'd waited in the parking lot while Quan entered the hotel, was arrested while he was sitting in the lounge of the hotel's casino and clammed up. 


Among the letters of reference submitted prior to Lumsden Quan's sentencing was this one from Taryn Burns, the woman who sent a July 5 email cautioning me against further revelations about David Damante.

Although I have redacted the post office box and phone numbers, the letter itself has not been modified.

In her letter, Burns states she had “worked together on several art collections” but repeats the debunked cover story cooked up by Quan's partner in crime, former cocaine trafficker Edward Levine, that the compassionate and empathetic Quan was merely “trying to assist an elderly, terminally ill man” sell his “antique horns of over forty years”.


Burns alludes to Quan's recent home foreclosure, claiming “he does not have a criminal character” while asserting his current criminal status was merely the result of “trying to assist others”. 

Yes, his co-defendant Edward Levine! (Scroll down for complete article.)

Why would Lumsden Quan have lost his home to foreclosure if, as Burns claimed in a document she provided to me via a Facebook message, Quan had in his possession an incredibly rare and valuable artwork—a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting he'd purchased from a strip mall coin shop in Costa Mesa, California?
 There's more to this story, which continues later in Part 2.  

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