PORTLAND — A Portland man and his girlfriend are accused of stealing a valuable painting from his mother’s home and shipping it to a fine art gallery in New York that offered to pay $60,000 for it.
The painting’s owner had removed it from the hallway wall leading to the master bedroom in her condo during a construction project and didn’t realize it was missing until she heard from a Portland police detective and an FBI agent late last month.
The gallery received the painting but grew suspicious when the sellers provided multiple names and addresses of where to send the check, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Portland.
Ryan Gerard Griffin, 46, and his girlfriend, Valerie Lindsay Marchant, 42, are each accused of interstate transportation of stolen goods and fraud by wire in U.S. District Court in Portland.
Griffin’s mother, Gretchen Holce, 76, had stored the 1988 painting by Tom Wesselmann called “Study for Monica with Tulips” in another room, stacked against other larger paintings as construction continued at her condo to repair water damage.
“It’s a little piece that I’ve always loved very much,” said Holce, who with her late husband had amassed a contemporary art collection.
Investigators suspect Griffin grabbed the painting while his mother was out of state in late April, according to court documents.
On May 9, a New York art gallery, which was not named in court records, received an offer on its “Sell Your Art” website to buy the painting. The seller identified himself as Jeff White and left an email and phone number. The offer included four photos of the painting. The background of one of the photos caught the top of the head of the man taking the photo.
Between May 9 and May 17, gallery workers talked by phone three times with a man who represented himself as Jeff White. He told the gallery that he had inherited the painting from his father. When asked how old he was when he first recalled seeing the painting in their home, he said he hadn’t grown up with his father, the affidavit said.
A gallery official told the caller that the painting’s retail value was $95,000 but the gallery would buy it for $60,000.
When the gallery asked for his address, he initially gave the address of Studio 6 Hotel on Portland’s Northeast 82nd Avenue. The gallery also requested a residential address, not a hotel, and he gave his girlfriend’s apartment on Southeast Kelly Street, according to investigators.
The gallery checked an art loss register and found no record of the painting having been reported stolen.
So on May 12, the gallery used FedEx to send a special art shipping box that contained a purchase agreement and a certificate of insurance to Mr. Jeffrey White. The box was delivered to the front desk of the Studio 6 Hotel three days later, according to surveillance video reviewed by police and the FBI.
Griffin retrieved the box from the front desk and Marchant joined him as he walked to a nearby stairwell, the surveillance video showed, according to the affidavit. Together, they took the box to Room 241.
On May 16, Griffin left the box by the hotel’s front desk to be shipped by FedEx, and it arrived at the gallery the next day. The signature on the purchase agreement read, “Jeffrey White,” according to the complaint. The gallery determined the painting was authentic.
The next day, Griffin was arrested in Tigard, accused of shoplifting from J.C. Penney’s at Washington Square, and taken into custody. Police said they found him with multiple personal IDs belonging to others, including one from a “Jeffrey White.”
Griffin’s girlfriend then stepped in to try to complete the sale of the painting and get payment from the gallery, FBI agent Ronnie Walker wrote in the affidavit.
Using Griffin’s email address, Marchant is accused of sending the gallery this note on May 21 and falsely signing her name as Jennifer: “I’m shooting you a quick email for my fianc?e Jeff White. … He had a family emergency and has not been able to talk. He asked me to do so for him in regards of payment for the painting.”
The gallery replied, asking for an address to send a revised purchase order and check. Marchant, using the name “Jennifer Loree,” gave the Studio 6 Hotel address again.
By May 26, she sent another email to the gallery, asking it to make the check out to Valerie Marchant, “one of our dearest and closest friends and our financial advisor,” and signed it Jennifer.
That day, the gallery contacted Portland police. Portland police Det. Eric McDaniel working with FBI Agent Walker, determined Griffin and Marchant used assumed names to try to sell the painting belonging to Griffin’s mother.
Griffin’s mother said when she heard from the gallery and police, she was shocked. “I didn’t ever think that the piece was even gone,” she said. She spent about 45 minutes looking through the paintings she had stored away and realized it was missing.
She figured her youngest son was at fault, and told investigators as much, and agreed to pursue prosecution. Griffin has struggled with a drug addiction since he was 17. Holce said she’s tried to help him but believes he’s safer now that he’s off the street and in custody.
“I just know I got to get them both off the streets,” she said. “I knew in my heart if I wanted him to live, it was the only decision that could be made. He was going to die if I didn’t do this. I don’t know if there’s hope but I won’t ever give up.”
Marchant, arrested and booked into the Multnomah County Detention Center in downtown Portland on a federal hold Tuesday, appeared in federal court on the charges Thursday afternoon.
Griffin, also being held at the downtown jail, will make his first federal court appearance at a later date.
He is on probation for a 2016 first-degree theft conviction, having stolen two statues from a woman’s yard a year earlier. He left the statues at a Portland shop to sell, seeking to pocket any proceeds, according to court records. He has at least 12 prior felony convictions, many involving drug offenses.
Griffin’s mother said she doubts her son and his girlfriend knew how serious the offense would be. She intends to have the painting shipped back to Portland, but she doubts she’ll put up back up on her wall. Instead, she expects to have it sold.
Holce added, “I don’t think I can ever look at it again and not think of the situation that happened.”