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Orlando Museum of Art boots CEO amid FBI probe into suspected fake Basquiat paintings

A Florida museum has parted ways with its CEO following a mushrooming scandal over its collection of suspected fake paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat.

FBI agents raided the Orlando Museum of Art Friday and seized 25 purported pieces by the famed artist amid growing suspicions that they’re fraudulent.

The museum’s director, Aaron De Groft, is no longer serving in his position as of Tuesday night, the board of directors said in a statement, according to the New York Times.

An affidavit contained in the raid warrant included an excerpt from an email from De Groft sent to an academic who had been tasked with authenticating the pieces for their owners.

The associate professor soon developed doubts about the Basquiats and asked to be disassociated from the exhibit.

Aaron De Groft was fired by the Orlando Museum of Art after 25 purported Basquiat paintings were confiscated by the FBI.
Basquiat painting
Some of the Basquiat paintings allegedly were not made using materials available before his death.

That appeared to frustrate De Groft, who threatened to tell University of Maryland administrators that she had been paid $60,000 to assess the works.

“You want us to put out there you got $60 grand to write this?” De Groft wrote, according to the New York Times. “Ok then. Shut up. You took the money. Stop being holier than thou.”

De Groft, who has insisted that the pieces are legitimate, told the academic, identified as Jordana Saggese, to quiet her objections.

“Do your academic thing and stay in your limited lane,” he wrote, according to the paper.

FBI seizing paintings
The FBI seized the paintings from the museum Friday.
Orlando Museum of Art
The FBI is now investigating the validity of the paintings formerly held in the Orlando Museum of Art.

Late television screenwriter Thad Mumford claimed to have purchased the collection directly from Jean Michel-Basquiat for $5,000 in the 1980s and placed the pieces in a storage unit.

They only surfaced in 2012 after Mumford fell behind on payments for the unit and the works were auctioned off before ending up with the museum.

One of the pieces in the show was painted on the back of a FedEx shipping box.

But a typeface designer told authorities that the font used on the cardboard was not used until 1994 — long after Basquiat’s overdose death in 1988.

The FBI is continuing to investigate the case.

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