On April 18, 2017, Bill Lowe was sentenced for stealing almost $500,000 from artists he represented — Lowe plead guilty to a single charge of felony Theft by Conversion. This morning it was announced that the 63-year-old art dealer submitted his final payment of restitution to the Fulton County District Attorney’s office. The DA’s office will be issuing payment to each artist — 10 across the United States and one in Germany.
Is this the coup de grâce? It’s hard to say, but it’s certainly a long time coming.
On record, the scandal dates back to 2012, when New York artist Donald Sultan reported to the Atlanta Police Department that Lowe had stolen over $10,000 from him. Like many artists represented by Bill Lowe Gallery, the artist had entrusted paintings to sell on his behalf, at least three of which had been sold by Lowe without remuneration to the artist.
“Bill Lowe’s admission of guilt that he defrauded at least 11 artists from throughout the United States and abroad, and the payment of restitution to those artists, is justice,” said Meredith Ragains, executive director of Georgia Lawyers for the Arts, a nonprofit that provides pro bono services to Georgia artists and arts organizations. “Mr. Lowe’s guilty plea has been years in the making. For more than a decade, Georgia Lawyers for the Arts and its volunteer attorneys have represented some of the artists whom Mr. Lowe failed to pay. Mr. Lowe’s exploitation of artists for his own financial gain, which Mr. Lowe now admits, has been brought to light. GLA is grateful to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard for criminally prosecuting this matter against Mr. Lowe, and demonstrates that exploitation of artists is not allowed in our city.
As Ms. Ragains alluded, the controversy dates back much further. As ArtsATL reported in 2013, fraudulent behavior dates back to the ‘90s. In a previous article artist Sid Smith recounted that he would receive “piecemeal payments” rather than full commission at the time of sale. It took the threat of legal action for Lowe to issue the full payment.
The culmination of the criminal investigation led by Investigator Kenneth Stapler conducted by the Atlanta Police Department’s Major Fraud Unit was proof that Lowe stole over a half-million dollars from at least 11 artists for over a decade. Lowe did this by selling their work and pocketing their portion of the sales. Financial and other records obtained by the police show that Lowe sold dozens and dozens of paintings and used the money due the artists to fund what appeared to be a lavish and successful lifestyle in addition to funding his gallery. These findings do not include allegations issued previous to the criminal investigation, which were all civil complaints.
Bank statements collected during the investigation revealed that in a three-year time span, Lowe used money from the Gallery’s Operating Account to make $69,000 worth of mortgage payments, spent $3,500 to maintain a property in North Carolina, and withdrew $170,000 for personal use. Under Georgia Law, Lowe is required to pay the artist before using the proceeds to pay for any of his expenses. The Fulton County District Attorney’s White Collar Crime Unit spent several years in its investigation and prosecution of the thefts committed by Lowe.
Lowe acknowledged his wrongdoing in a written statement before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Ural Glanville. “I acknowledge that artists relied upon me to receive payment from the proceeds of sales from the artwork. I further acknowledge that I did not fully reimburse the artists in a timely fashion as required,” he said.
Mark Perlman, one of the 11 artists who will receive restitution from the county, stated, “I just wanted to thank you for staying with this case and seeing that justice has been served. In addition to the money, I am pleased that Lowe will be held responsible and not able to take advantage of his artists again.”
Following Lowe’s guilty plea, Judge Glanville sentenced the defendant to 10 years’ probation. Lowe was required to pay $256,514.92 up front into an escrow account for full remaining restitution to these artists, and he must successfully complete 750 hours of community service. The case was prosecuted by members of the Fulton County District Attorney’s White Collar Division, Chief Assistant District Attorney Brad Malkin with the assistance of Assistant District Attorney Kamron Mitchell, and Investigator Gustavus Griffin.
A week ago Bill Lowe Gallery hosted an opening reception for Voice of God by HemRaj. The gallery’s website states that he currently represents 60 artists worldwide.