Police investigate massive art fraud

DOZENS of d'Arcy W Doyle paintings sold in Grafton last year for tens of thousands of dollars could have been fakes.

Art dealer Ronald Coles, who brought his d'Arcy W Doyle Memorial travelling art show to Grafton in December has gone into hiding after more than 100 disgruntled customers from across Australia have contacted NSW Police.

Allegations included the selling of forged paintings and also accepting money for art works and then re-selling the same piece.

A report in the Sun Herald on Sunday claimed the art dealer was allegedly involved in one of the 'largest art frauds of its kind in Australia'.

The Sun Herald story included a personal account from Bruce Bushell, of Yamba, who was reported to have paid $80,000 to Mr Coles for what he was told were Doyle originals.

“I bought three Doyle's from Ron's Grafton exhibition. A few hours later, he rang and said he had a fella who had hit the wall financially,” Mr Bushell said.

“He told me 'He's got Doyle's and you can have them cheap.”

The Sun Herald stated of the six paintings Mr Bushell bought, only the first one was genuine.

Despite numerous attempts, The Daily Examiner has been unable to locate the art dealer to question him about the paintings sold in Grafton.

Mr Coles gallery has been cleared out and closed and the phones disconnected.

Mr Coles set up the makeshift exhibition at Grafton's Quality Inn for three days last year, just days before Christmas.

He told The Daily Examiner the d'Arcy W Doyle originals were recently released from the artist's widow, Jennifer Doyle's private collection.

He said he had been a great friend of the artist when he was alive, and felt privileged to have made a living from selling Doyle's work.

On the first day of the sale Mr Coles said the 58 paintings ranged in price from $3300 to $55,000 and were selling well.

“One man travelled over 100 miles to get here and he bought two paintings,” Mr Coles said.

The Daily Examiner asked Mr Cole why he chose Grafton as the location to sell the Doyle paintings.

On the record Mr Cole said he wanted to let country people have a chance to buy the well known Australian artists works.

He also said the demographic of Grafton suited the artist's works.

But after the interview Mr Cole revealed the actual reason why he was in the Valley.

Mr Cole said he had to appear in court at Grafton in December 2008 so he thought while he was there, he would sell some paintings at the same time.

Just one month after his successful Grafton sale the NSW Police stormed the dealer's gallery, 'Investment Gallery' in Kenthurst and two other private properties, seizing firearms and 404 paintings worth more than $5 million.

The Sun Herald has reported Mr Coles is the subject of two Supreme Court actions, instigated by clients who claimed he sold their prized paintings without passing on the proceeds.

  •  The NSW Police are investigating Mr Coles so anyone from the Clarence Valley who purchased paintings off the dealer while he was in Grafton last year should call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

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