Man arrested for allegedly selling counterfeit Chihuly art

SEATTLE -- A Renton man is facing up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for allegedly selling counterfeit Dale Chihuly artwork on eBay.

Michael Little, 35, was arrested Thursday on suspicion of trafficking in counterfeit goods. According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, he advertised and sold glass art and paintings he said were the work of Dale Chihuly over the past two years.

A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigation was launched when an art buyer attempted to purchase Chihuly pieces to donate to Gonzaga University's Jundt Art Museum.

According to court documents, started by purchasing a small bowl from Little for $1,591 on eBay on Jan. 1, 2012. The same buyer reportedly met Little a number of additional times, purchasing more than 30 pieces for more than $30,000 total.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the pieces included forged Chihuly signatures, and Little provided fake certificates of authentication.

But, the buyer was unable to authenticate any of the pieces through an appraiser. According to court documents, Little himself tried to have the same appraiser, who had worked with Chihuly in the past, authenticate them.

The appraiser determined the pieces for counterfeit because, "proportions are off, the flowers are indelicate and clunky, the spots of gold aventurine glass are too large and the red jimmies are sloppy, the bottom and pontil mark are not normal for the expert team of glassblowers who are employed by Dale Chihuly. And, the signature is not his - it's done with the wrong tool, it's in the wrong place, and the date would not be correct if it was Chihuly's work," according to court documents.

The appraiser's assessment was backed up by additional experts. In addition, no one had ever heard of Belltown Art, where Little had supposedly gotten some of the pieces, and he had used his eBay account to purchase numerous pieces of glass art and Chihuly reference materials from Hong Kong and China for as little as 99 cents, according to court documents.

According to the documents, Little also sold counterfeit pieces to two other individuals.

Little will make his first court appearance Thursday afternoon.