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Saturday, May 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Artists Call Billionaire a Cheat

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Two artists sued billionaire real estate mogul Igor Olenicoff, accusing him of having their sculptures copied in China and using the copies to beautify his developments.

Donald Wakefield and John Raimondi filed separate federal complaints of copyright infringement, against Russian-born Olenicoff, 70, and his company Olen Properties Corp.

According to Forbes magazine, Olenicoff's net worth is $2.4 billion - making him the 155th richest person in the United States.

But Wakefield and Raimondi say in their nearly identical complaints that Olenicoff is also a convicted tax cheat, pleading guilty in 2007 to stashing more than $350 million in European bank accounts. The billionaire paid $52 million in back taxes and was sentenced to 2 years probation and 120 hours of community service.

Wakefield creates large-scale stone and metal sculptures. He says in his complaint that each piece is a single-edition, one-of-a-kind piece.

In 2004, Wakefield sent emails to real estate developers in Southern California, including Olen Properties, seeking buyers for his work. Wakefield says the emails included a link to his website, which contains photos of all his sculptures - including a piece called "Untitled."

According to Wakefield's complaint, 4 years later he saw "Untitled" at one of Olenicoff's developments in Newport Beach. At the time he believed he was looking at the original piece, thinking it had been moved from Chicago to the Olen property.

"In or about January 2010, Wakefield discovered three copies of 'Untitled' at an Olen Properties location in Irvine, California. Two of these copies were unaltered copies of 'Untitled,' and the third is an unauthorized derivative work which was entitled 'A Tear Must Fall.' It was only upon discovery of these three sculptures that Wakefield realized that the sculpture he discovered in Newport Beach was, in fact, an unauthorized copy and not the original," Wakefield says in his complaint.

Since then, Wakefield says he has discovered three more unauthorized reproductions of his work, including two copies of "Untitled" at Olen Pointe in Brea, and the "A Tear Must Fall" knockoff in Newport Beach.

Raimondi's story is different, since he creates limited editions of his works in various sizes. He claims that in 2001, Olenicoff contacted him to discuss purchasing monumental editions of his works "Dian" and "Ceres" for use as public art at Olen's commercial properties.

"The sculptures were to be custom-made for defendants, as they were not in Raimondi's inventory. Defendants represented to Raimondi that they were interested in purchasing his art in order to comply with city ordinance(s) requiring developers to spend a certain percentage of money on public art; in this instance between $100,000 and $250,000," Raimondi's complaint states.

Raimondi says he met with Olenicoff twice. At the second meeting, Raimondi left photographs, detailed drawings and prices with Olenicoff - who had "requested photographs showing multiple views of the sculptures" to submit to city planners, according to Raimondi's complaint.

"Beginning approximately ten days after the second meeting, Olenicoff refused to speak with Raimondi. Defendants instead had an assistant relay to Raimondi that Olenicoff had a change of heart about the sculptures. Instead of purchasing the sculptures from Raimondi, defendants, at their direction, had multiple unauthorized and infringing copies of the sculptures manufactured in China," Raimondi says in his complaint.

Raimondi claims that Olenicoff has installed at least two copies of "Dian" and two copies of "Ceres" at commercial properties owned by Olen Properties. He discovered the infringement thanks to the good eye of a Brea city planner.

"Raimondi discovered the infringing sculptures alleged herein beginning in or about September 2010. At that time, Raimondi was contacted by a representative from the City of Brea who noticed the works at defendants' buildings which attributed credit to a Chinese artist. The representative was aware that the works had previously been submitted to the City of Brea by defendants listing Raimondi as the artist and thus advised of the infringement. At no point did Raimondi authorize the defendants' manufacture, replication or public display of the sculptures," Raimondi's complaint states.

In addition to damages and infringer's profits, the artists seek an injunction to stop Olenicoff from infringing on any more of their present or future work. They also demand that Olenicoff destroy the copies or hand them over to the artists.

Wakefield and Raimondi are represented by Michael Kuznetsky of the Kuznetsky Law Group in Hollywood.

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