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Jasper Johns' ex-assistant admits $6.5M scheme to steal works from artist's Connecticut studio

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Pleading guilty to a single charge, a former Jasper Johns assistant told a federal judge Wednesday that he transported works of art stolen from the pop artist's Connecticut studio over state lines.

James Meyer, 52, of Salisbury, Connecticut, told U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken in New York that he removed 22 pieces from Johns' studio in Sharon, Connecticut, without the artist's permission so that he could sell them at a gallery.

Meyer, Johns' studio assistant for over 25 years, explained his crime as he pleaded guilty to interstate transportation of stolen property, admitting moving the art works from 2006 to 2011.

The art was sold by a Manhattan gallery for $6.5 million after Meyer provided the owner with fictitious authentication papers, prosecutors said. Meyer got half the proceeds.

According to the government, Meyer boasted to the gallery owner and prospective buyers of the art that Johns had given the works to him as gifts when that was not true. Prosecutors said Meyer required each purchaser to sign an agreement promising not to loan, exhibit or re-sell the art for at least eight years.

"James Meyer made millions by stealing and selling the valuable artworks that he was entrusted with maintaining," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a news release.

Prosecutors said part of Meyer's responsibilities as Johns' assistant was to maintain a studio file drawer containing pieces of art that were not yet completed by Johns and not authorized by Johns to be placed in the art market.

As part of Meyer's signed plea, he has agreed not to challenge any sentence between three and four years in prison or any forfeiture amount that is less than $3.9 million. Sentencing is scheduled for Dec. 10.

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