OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. – An art theft case Local 4 first brought you last fall is back in the news Thursday night.
The Metro Detroit gallery owner is ready to plead guilty to the thefts totaling more than a million dollars.
There were many moving parts to this case from the jump, and Thursday (May 25), Wendy Halstead Beard appeared ready to settle it by pleading guilty to one count of wire fraud.
On Oct. 14, 2022, FBI agents confiscated valuable pictures from Beard’s home.
She’d closed her late father’s famed Birmingham gallery and moved it to her house.
They said over 100 rare fine art photographs with a combined estimated value of approximately $1.6 million had been identified as being consigned to Beard and not returned or sold to victims without being delivered.
The pictures were world-class, but none were more famous than Ansel Adams. Adams’s photos, called the Grand Tetons and the Snake River, were the most valuable as they are worth $900,000.
Her customers were elderly collectors like 82-year-old Charlie Hall.
“It seemed to me that she and her husband were in over their heads,” said Hall.
Hall drove up from Indiana to Beard’s place looking for the photos he’d left with her because he couldn’t contact her on the phone.
“Photos were stacked around in random ways,” Hall said. “When I went to claim mine, she gave me a photo that wasn’t mine, that might have been some sort of close, and when I called her on it, said, ‘This isn’t the one, this is not mine, mine’s there.’”
The FBI says she offered fake reasons for not responding.
For instance, an email went to a client saying:
“Wendy (Beard) had her double lung transplant and has been a little dicey, but we are hoping they take the vent out and bring her to this afternoon or tomorrow.”
“It’s an unfortunate story for her and for us, those of us that got fleeced,” Hall said.
Local 4 tried to get ahold of Hall to get his reaction to the plea but couldn’t connect.
Beard could get 20 years in prison. The FBI will hold on to the confiscated art until after sentencing, which will likely happen until later this year.