Local Miami Pastor Allegedly Behind Plot to Sell Fake Damien Hirst Paintings

Last year, Kevin Sutherland led his Mosaic Miami Church congregation through a sermon about sight and spirituality. "God begins to wash away" our blindness, the charismatic pastor said. "God begins to let us see."

Yet it was Sutherland's foresight that would fail him. The 46-year-old preacher was charged last week in New York with trying to sell five fake Damien Hirst paintings for $185,000.

Mosaic Miami is a small, one-story church located just off South Dixie Highway in Coconut Grove. YouTube videos show Sutherland preaching in slacks and dress shirts to a sparse crowd while standing on a stage decorated with guitars.

Prosecutors say, however, this humble setup was also the stage for a brazen art hoax. Last year, Sutherland allegedly traveled to New York to try to sell five fake Damien Hirst paintings -- two "spin" and three "spot" paintings -- for $185,000.

The auction house Sotheby's had already warned the pastor that the paintings might not be authentic, but Sutherland attempted to sell them anyway. Unfortunately for him, his buyer was actually an undercover cop.

"He had choices he could have made that would have brought him to a very, very different place," Assistant District Attorney Rachel Hochhauser said in court Monday, according to the AP.

But Sotheby's never concluded the works were fake, and obtaining authentication from Hirst's studio would have been too pricey, Sutherland's lawyer argued.

"Kevin Sutherland believed the art to be real," attorney Sanford "Sam" Talkin said.

Three other men were also arrested in the faux-art scheme: Laguna Beach gallery owner Vincent Lopreto, business partner Ronald Bell, and part-time art dealer Richard Silver.

After New Times left a message with Mosaic Miami, a woman politely called us back to say Pastor Sutherland would not answer any questions at this time.

Send your tips to the author, or follow him on Twitter.

Follow Miami New Times on Facebook and Twitter @MiamiNewTimes.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.