(CN) – A CNN talk show host alleges in court that an art gallery sold him a phony photo of Winston Churchill with a bogus signature of the late British prime minister.
In a complaint filed July 26, Michael Smerconish, a host and political commentator on both radio and television, says he was regular customer of Walter Graham Arader III and his Arader Galleries business, between 1992 and 2004.
At the time, Smerconish was practicing law in Philadelphia, and he says he often purchased antique maps, prints and watercolors from the gallery, which is now located in King of Prussia, Pa.
Smerconish describes himself as a Winston Churchill “aficionado.” He owns an original watercolor painted by Churchill, and says he has also visited the former prime minister’s home, war room and archive center.
According to the complaint, Smerconish paid $5,000 in 2000 for a photo of Churchill purportedly taken by Yousuf Karch, who specialized in portrait photos of world leaders, great thinkers and movie stars in the mid-20th century.
The photo came with a certificate of authenticity stating that Churchill signed the photo, “Yours Sincerely, Winston S. Churchill, 1942.”
Earlier this year, Smerconish says, the autograph began to fade, so he sought help in getting it restored. A conservator told him that the print is not a photograph.
Smerconish stated that he consulted the world’s leading authority on Karch’s photography, who told him that the print was reproduced from a book that was published in 1980.
Churchill died in 1965.
Smerconish sued Arader Galleries for fraud and intentional misrepresentation, citing the certificate of authenticity’s statement that the print was “the only one of this, the quintessential photograph of Churchill we have ever seen offered for sale in the United States.”
He also sued for breach of contract and breach of warranty, asking for a total of $150,000.
Smerconish is represented by Shanin Specter and Tracie L. Palmer of the Philadelphia law firm of Kline & Specter.
In a lengthy email to Courthouse News, Graham Arader said he does not sell photographs, knows nothing about them, and that neither he nor Smerconish has an invoice or any other record of the sale.
“This photograph could have come up at auction, been stolen from me, lost or misplaced but there certainly is NO record whatsoever of a sale,” Arader said. (emphasis in the original email.)
The gallery owner said Smerconish offered to settle the matter for $5,000, and when that offer was refused, “he started calling his friends in the media and is starting a PR campaign against me so that I now being judged in the press before there is a trial or hearing or arbitration.”
He added: “Nothing like this has ever happened to me in 45 years of business. Amazing that I can be tried and convicted in the press by friends of a powerful man in the media. … My wish is to settle and end this boorish attempt to destroy my reputation and all the good works that I have accomplished.”
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