It was the golden age of eBay. Optimistic bidders went online to the world's largest flea market in droves, ready to spend cash on everything from garden gnomes to Mercedes convertibles. Among them were art collectors willing to spend big money on unseen paintings, hoping to buy valuable pieces of art at below-market prices. EBay also attracted the occasional con artist unable to resist the temptation of abusing a system that prided itself on being "based on trust." Kenneth Walton -- once a lawyer bound by the ethics of his profession to uphold the law -- was seduced by just such a con artist and, eventually, became one himself.
Ripped from the headlines of the New York Times, the first newspaper to break the story, Fake describes Walton's innocent beginnings as an online art-trading hobbyist and details the downward spiral of greed that ultimately led to his federal felony conviction. What started out as a satisfying exercise in reselling thrift store paintings for a profit in order to pay back student loans and mounting credit card debt soon became a fierce addiction to the subtle deception of luring unsuspecting bidders into overpaying for paintings of questionable origins.
In a landscape peopled with colorful eccentrics hoping to score museum-quality paintings at bargain prices, Walton entered into a partnership with Ken Fetterman, an unslick (yet somehow very effective) con man. Over the course of eighteen months they managed to take in hundreds of thousands of dollars by selling forged paintings and bidding on their own auctions to drive up the prices. When their deception was discovered and made international headlines, Walton found himself stalked by reporters and federal agents while Fetterman went on the lam, sparking a nationwide FBI manhunt. His elaborate game of cat and mouse lasted nearly three years, until the feds caught up with him after a routine traffic violation and brought him to justice.
In this sensational story of the seductive power of greed, Kenneth Walton breaks his silence for the first time and, in his own words, details the international scandal that forever changed the way eBay does business.
In November 1998, Walton was a bored, unproductive 31-year-old Sacramento attorney when a "boorish" army buddy, Ken Fetterman, showed him his eBay art auctions on the Internet, gave him a five-minute tutorial on "the world's largest flea market" and cut Walton in on an auction that doubled his $400 investment. Soon Walton was frequenting thrift stores, making shill bids to raise the price on his own and Fetterman's auctions and selling paintings with signatures he strongly suspected were doctored by Fetterman, even allowing one buyer to think he'd landed a Giacometti. When Walton forges Richard Diebenkorn's signature on a painting that auctions for $135,805 in May 2000, the result is front-page coverage in the New York Times and an FBI investigation. The amoral slacker loses friends, lovers and his law license. eBay bans him for life; he pleads guilty to a felony and gets probation. Walton is humbled but gains a conscience, a pure love of art and a passion for computer programming. This engrossing morality tale is also a primer on how to commit Internet fraud, an indictment of eBay and its lackadaisical attitudes about crime, as well as a sad commentary on society where art is a commodity to be bought sight unseen by the greedy and foolish.
Customer ReviewsSee All
Excellent! You live this story as you read it. Most of us have been faced with temptation to take what looks like easy money, especially when we think we desperately need it for whatever our reasoning might be at the time. However as this story unfolds it becomes
quite evident that there is always a price to pay for the things we desire and the short cut more times than not ends up being the longer, harder and more costly route. This applies to both the buyers and the sellers in this well told and interesting story. I strongly recommend this book.