Art dealer faked lung transplant to rob seniors in $1.6 million fraud scheme, FBI says – USA TODAY

For years, Wendy Beard ran a lucrative art gallery she inherited from her millionaire father in Birmingham, Michigan.
But along the way, the FBI says, she got greedy – so greedy that she scammed seniors by taking their rare art on consignment, selling it and then keeping all the profits, including a mural-sized Ansel Adams photograph she sold for $440,000 without ever telling the owner.
When the 82-year-old owner of the photo tried to get the picture back, the FBI says, Beard came up with a story: She was in the hospital getting a double lung transplant and was too sick to deal with the request.
None of it was true, the FBI says.
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The 82-year-old woman – identified as Victim No. 1 in court documents – was not alone.
On Thursday, the FBI issued a plea to the public, asking for its help in identifying “additional potential victims” who may have provided art to Beard and never got paid, or who bought art from her and never received it.
In an alleged fraud scheme unraveling in U.S. District Court, Beard is charged with running a $1.6 million scam involving more than 100 rare, fine-art photographs that collectors entrusted her with to sell on consignment.
Instead of honoring her clients’ contracts, the FBI says, she sold the photos without their knowledge and kept the money. Moreover, the FBI says, Beard sold artwork to other victims but never delivered the goods – even after they had paid her – and created fake email addresses of fake employees she pretended worked for her.
It was these fake employees who came up with the lung transplant story, the FBI says, alleging it was really Beard who made up the tale in emails to her unwitting clients.
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The FBI detailed these allegations in a criminal complaint in U.S. District Court, where Beard is charged with wire fraud and bank fraud for allegedly running a yearslong scheme that preyed largely on the elderly, out of a gallery that her father founded more than 50 years ago.
Beard is free on bond. Neither she nor her court-appointed attorney could be reached for comment.
According to the complaint, Beard’s scheme started in 2017 – one year before her father died – and ran out of two locations.
The gallery, which was renamed the Wendy Halsted Gallery a decade earlier, operated for a few years out of a Birmingham storefront. But in 2020, the business closed and relocated to Beard’s home in Franklin, Michigan.
Sometime this year, the Birmingham police received multiple complaints from art collectors alleging that Beard had taken their artwork on consignment and had not returned the art after the contract had ended.
Birmingham police referred the complaints to the FBI.
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Dozens more victims came forward, including five individuals whose stories were shared in an FBI affidavit on file in federal court.
But as the FBI agent noted in the affidavit: “Bank records and other business records indicate there are likely to be more victims who have yet to be interviewed.”
In 2018, an 82-year-old art collector gave Beard about $900,000 worth of fine art photography to sell on consignment. Among the prints was a mural-sized photo by Ansel Adams titled “The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park, 1942.”
Beard had appraised the photo’s value at $625,000, and brokered a nine-month agreement with its owner to list it for $685,000 – with a 5% commission going to Beard as the consignee. The agreement expired in December 2019.
On Nov. 14, 2019, Beard sent an email to her client and stated that she took the photo to Jackson, Wyoming, in attempts to sell it, but was not successful. She then asked the owner if they would consider taking $440,000 for the photograph.
But unbeknownst to the owner, Beard would eventually sell the photo for $440,000 to the Wyoming gallery, ship it from her Franklin home to a private collector, who then wired $440,000 to a bank account belonging to the Wendy Halsted Gallery. The signers on the account are Beard and her husband.
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The Ansel Adams print would then be sold over and over again, for more and more money. It recently resold for $685,000 to a private client, who displayed it in a private residence in Idaho.
Meanwhile, the original owner of the photo got nothing, the FBI says, and was never notified by Beard what happened to the photo.
The FBI says Victim 1 made multiple attempts to get their photos back from Beard, but that Beard came up with multiple excuses, most of them alleging she was in poor health and struggling with lung issues that put her on a transplant list.
On Aug. 3, 2021, Victim 1 received an email from a “Wendy” at the gallery, citing an unplanned hospital stay by Beard. In the email signed “Wendy,” Beard claimed to have been unconscious for an extended period of time but “got bumped up on the transplant list.”
Victim 1 received similar emails from other email addresses, claiming to be Beard’s assistants.
According to the FBI, the email addresses that these messages were coming from were created in 2021 and registered to Beard’s personal cell phone number. The names tied to the addresses had no connection to the Wendy Halsted Gallery.
“Nor does there appear to be any payroll paid out to anyone via the Wendy Halsted Gallery bank accounts reviewed by the FBI,” an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit, adding there were more victims who had been scammed by Beard, and they were getting the same types of emails as Victim 1.
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“I believe Beard created these and other fictitious assistants and email addresses in furtherance of the fraud and to create sympathy from her victims and justify why she had not returned their artwork,” the FBI agent writes, pointing to statements that claimed Beard was in the hospital or in a coma.
As for the lung transplant story, the agent added: “According to the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), there is no record of Beard ever being on a transplant list or the recipient of a donor organ.”
In May, Birmingham police received a report from a person alleging their 89-year-old father with Alzheimer’s had been scammed by the owner of the Halsted Gallery.
According to the relative, in 2020, their father gave Beard five photographs by Ansel Adams, Ion Zupco, Arnold Newman and Jerry Uelsma to sell on consignment. But the relative was not pleased with the progress Beard was making and requested to end the consignment agreement.
However, prior to returning the photographs, court records state, Beard dropped the photographs off at a local framing business.
When the relative received the photographs back, they noticed that one image, a signed photograph by Ansel Adams titled “Tenaya Creek,” was now missing the artist’s signature. Further, a second image purporting to be a signed photograph by Ansel Adams titled “Siesta Lake Portfolio” was actually a different Ansel Adams photo known as “Moon and Half Dome.”
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When Victim 2’s relative contacted Beard to get the correct photos returned, Beard was evasive, court records state. So on the morning of May 24, police went to Beard’s home, where Beard agreed to return the two missing Ansel Adams photos.
But when the detective unwrapped the packages, the wrong photographs were inside.
Almost two weeks later, Beard showed up at the Birmingham Police Department with two photographs. One was the correct “Siesta Lake” photograph. But the second photo was still the wrong one.
The signed “Tenaya Creek,” valued at $4,000-$5,000, was still missing.
In 2020, a 69-year-old Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist and college professor emailed the Halsted Gallery to sell some rare original photographs. The photographer signed a deal for Beard to sell 20 photographs on consignment for a lump sum of $40,000. Beard would get a 10% commission and the agreement would expire after a year.
Within six months, the photographer said Beard became evasive. The photographer contacted a gallery in Florida where the photos were supposed to be on display, and was provided contact information for Beard’s assistant, a so-called “Katy Welsh.”
In May 2021, 18 months after the agreement had expired, Victim 3 lost all of his life’s work and art collection in a residential fire. The photographer subsequently tried to contact Beard but was unable to reach her.
To date, the FBI says, Victim 3 has never been paid for any of the photographs on consignment with Beard, nor has she ever returned them.
Numerous victims interviewed by the FBI said that Beard had planned to take their artwork to her gallery in Florida to sell. In 2021, Beard leased space in Palm Beach Art showroom for seven months, but left an inventory of 62 photographs after her lease ended.
In early 2019, a 70-year-old art collector placed four items on consignment with Beard: a signed Ansel Adams book and three photographs.
A few years passed and the items didn’t sell. So Victim 4 requested that everything be returned.
On Aug. 4, a UPS package arrived. It contained the signed Ansel Adams book and a backdated check for $4,000. It was dated Nov. 9, 2021. The memo on the check stated “Edward Weston,” which Victim 4 concluded was for the sale of an Edward Weston photograph, even though Beard had never informed the victim of that sale.
Victim 4 contacted the bank, which disclosed Beard’s account had been closed, and therefore the check was could not be cashed.
Beard claimed she would return the other two photographs, the affidavit states, though Victim 4 has yet to receive them.
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Meanwhile, the FBI investigation would reveal that Beard had shipped one of Victim 4’s still-missing photographs to an art dealer in Los Angeles. That dealer acknowledged selling one of the missing photos to a private collector – and paid Beard $7,875 for it in 2021.
The Los Angeles dealer could not find a buyer for the other photograph and shipped it back to Beard at her home in Franklin.
In July 2021, Beard contacted a 72-year-old longtime friend and asked if the friend was interested in buying an Ansel Adams photograph titled “Moonrise Hernandez” for $73,000.
The friend paid Beard for the photo in two payments: $40,000 and $33,000 in the form of personal checks.
As time passed, Victim 5 tried to contact Beard about the photograph, but Beard was evasive and gave various medical reasons for why she had not shipped the photo yet, including sending this email on Sept. 1:
“On computer finally. Been a crazy last bit …. Not all gone but at least out of the months long coma. Nice to see the sunshine sorry so short more later. “
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According to the FBI, this would have been the second medical coma Beard experienced within a year.
Meanwhile, just two weeks prior to Beard sending that email, the FBI saw her leave her residence and drive to a Detroit parking structure.
According to the FBI: “Beard did not appear to be physically impaired.”


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