James Meyer was a young artist looking for a job when he knocked on the door of Jasper Johns’s studio in the mid-1980s.
The giant of the Pop Art world was out, so Meyer dropped off his slides with a letter of recommendation. But he had to return the next day because he didn’t have any copies at home. “Jasper was there. Two hours later, he hired me, told me to come back the next day,” Meyer said in a 2005 interview with the artist Matthew Rose.
Over the next quarter-century, Meyer worked as Johns’s assistant, doing a variety of administrative and art-related tasks for the artist. But according to prosecutors, in recent years he also began stealing and selling 22 works by his famous boss in what the criminal case against him alleges was a $6.5m (£4.2m) fraud.
The scheme allegedly unfolded between September 2006 to February 2012. Prosecutors said that Meyer secretly removed 22 pieces of art from a file drawer at Johns’s Connecticut studio and took them to a Manhattan art gallery, where he told the owner that the works have been gifted to him by the great Pop Artist.
To give credibility to his claims, Meyer is said to have produced notarised documents stating that each piece was authentic, and that he was the rightful owner of the works. In order to keep his scheme under wraps, he insisted that each be accompanied by an agreement that buyers would not loan, exhibit or re-sell the work for at least eight years.
The gallery bought his lies and sold the 22 works for a total haul of around $6.5m. Of that, around $3.4m landed directly in the lap of 51-year-old Meyer, who was arrested earlier this week. Johns has not commented publicly on the charges.