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‘Lost Negatives’ Owner Sues Attorney for Fraud

A California man who thought he'd hit the jackpot when he found and bought two boxes of photographic negatives allegedly made by Ansel Adams, has sued his attorney. Rick Norsigian claims he was cheated of thousands of dollars from the sale of photographs and posters made from the glass plates. Norsigian, a commercial painter, bought the 65 old-fashioned, glass plate negatives at a garage sale in Fresno, Calif. in 2000, and reportedly stored them underneath his pool table for years as he considered what to do with them.

Although he'd paid only $45 for the lot, he has always maintained the negatives are among those believed to have been lost, along with other items, after a fire in Ansel Adams' studio.

Seven years after his find, Norsigian hired attorney Arnold Peter, then with the law firm of Raskin, Peter, Rubin & Simon, to represent him in the sale of prints made from the negatives.

However, according to lawsuit Norsigian filed in Los Angeles, that decision was ill-advised. The owner of the glass negatives now contends Peter fraudulently persuaded him to sign an agreement with defendant Media Partners Global, a company wholly owned by the attorney, to sell the images, and has since refused to pay him what he's due.

Despite their attorney-client relationship, Peter never advised him of any potential or actual conflict of interest inherent in the various, intertwined business relationships engaged in the sale of the photographs, Norsigian claims.

What's more, he says, Peter engaged the help of at least one shady character to carry out his scheme.

According to Norsigian, the night before the Beverly Hill press conference at which he first claimed publicly to possess the "lost negatives" of the iconic photographer, Peter introduced him to defendant David Streets, whom he was led to believe would appraise the negatives and help sell the images.

Norsigian claims he later learned that Streets was a convicted felon, with a criminal record involving petty theft and fraud.

But by then bad associations may have been the least of his problems.

On August 23, 2010, the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust sued Norsigian, contending he was violating its commercial trademark on the Ansel Adams name. He eventually settled the suit by agreeing not to associate Adams's name, likeness or trademark in any way with the marketing the photographs made from his negatives.

Even worse, Norsigian's efforts to authenticate his claims about the negatives began to crumble. Just weeks before the Adams Trust lawsuit was filed, Robert C. Moeller, a former curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston who initially had deemed the glass plates authentic, had a very public change of heart.

"I made a mistake," he told The New York Times.

Moeller went on to explain that based on subsequent investigation, he now believed at least some of the images were taken by the very talented, but unheralded photographer named Earl Brooks.

The University of Arizona also weighed in with an analysis of the negatives, concurring with Moeller's assessment, leading to a lawsuit by Norsigian that was later thrown out by the 9th Circuit.

And yet, the photographs were lovely and continued to sell.

According to Norsigian, Media Global Partners has 'sold out' of at least 15 limited edition sets of the photographs, each of which comprised 16 prints, which sold for $7,500 each.

"This, alone, reflects revenues of some $1.8 million. ... Beyond the limited edition sets, Media Partners Global, Defendants David Streets, David W. Streets, LLC, and others with whom Peter conspired, sold numerous additional imaged generated from the negatives," he says.

But Norsigian says the longer time went on, the more his concerns about the accounting of income and expenses related to the sales mounted.

"On or about January 30, 2011, Peter provided an admittedly incomplete accounting, but reassured Norsigian he would provide a more thorough and complete accounting shortly thereafter. ... When Peter eventually provided the January 2011 accounting, the records he provided revealed payments made to ICO in October 2010 and January 2011," the complaint says.

"The January 2011 accounting also included charged for a woman named Susan Stroh. In or about 2014, Norsigian learned that those entries in the account were entirely false. Stroh denied having provided any services relative to the Ansel Adams image and further denied having provided any services to Peter since 2007," Norsigian says.

"Over the months that followed, Peter repeatedly promised, but failed, to provide a full and accurate accounting of the income and expenses related to the sale of the images," he says

Norsigian says that to date, he has not received anywhere near what he is share entitled to from the sale of images generated from his negatives. Moreover, he says, the defendants have failed to provide Norsigian a full and adequate accounting of the funds generated from the sale of images generated from the negatives.

Norsigian seeks compensatory and punitive damages, rescission of his contract with the defendants, the imposition of a constrictive trust and a proper accounting of proceeds and expenses related to the sale of the images.

He is represented by Patrick M. Maloney of El Segundo, Calif.

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