Birmingham art dealer Wendy Halstead Beard (make that former art dealer) pleaded guilty Thursday to defrauding more than 10 customers collectively of more than $1.5 million in fine art photography.
“This defendant swindled numerous families out of valuable artwork and lied to them repeatedly in order to keep her fraud scheme afloat,” said U.S. Attorney Dawn Ison in a statement. “She did this for no reason other than to line her own pockets at the expense of her victims."
Beard, 58, of Franklin, who ran the Wendy Halsted Gallery, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. Sentencing is set for Dec.12 in federal court.
The guilty plea comes in wake of an FBI raid at her Franklin home last October.
The gallery operated for a few years out of a Birmingham storefront until 2020 when it closed and relocated to Beard's home.
Authorities charged that the scheme ran from March 2019 to October 2022, and that the victims were "typically elderly individuals."
Court documents allege that Beard received fine art photography prints on consignment, sold the artwork without the owners' knowledge, kept the profits for her own personal gain, and continually deceived the owners about the status of their photographs, authorities said.
A court affidavit stated Beard sold at least one of the victim's mural-sized Ansel Adams photographs for $440,000 without notifying the victim or forwarding the proceeds of the sale.
A press release said "Beard attempted to lull her victims into a false sense of security by offering excuses for her unwillingness or inability to promptly return the victims’ photographs after the expiration of the operative consignment agreements."
Some of her excuses included exaggerating the severity of her own health problems by claiming she had been in a coma and had received a double-lung transplant.