U.S. Marshals Dumping Great Works of Schemers

The U.S. Marshals Service is cheating humanity, selling works by Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Rembrandt and other historically significant artists.

These works fell into the hands of another brand of artist -- con artists -- and now they are up for auction at www.txauction.com beside impounded cars, pump trucks and port-o-potties.

Marc Drier, formerly a big-time lawyer with offices in New York and Los Angeles, is no longer looking at his "Green Bird" by Marc Chagall. He was convicted for peddling $700 million in fake promissory notes. Now he is looking at jail birds in a federal prison in Minnesota.

The Marshals will be taking bids on collections once owned by Mr. Drier and other financial schemers through July 2. "Green Bird" had attracted 36 bids as of this writing, the highest $8,601. So far, Mr. Drier's collection is drawing thousands, not millions of dollars in bids.

A spokesman for Gaston & Sheehan Auctioneers said most of the pieces that the Marshals are auctioning are lithographs, not the oil paintings that command millions of dollars at Christies.

So why sell them? Why not open the U.S. Marshals Art Museum in Washington D.C. and charge admission? People would line up every month for special exhibits featuring the great works collected by yet another great American Ponzi artist. And the Marshals could take credit for enriching humanity instead of just prosecuting all the inhumanity.

I know I would pay a hefty ticket price to see "Johnny Cash Flipping the Bird, San Quentin Prison 1969" by James Joseph Marshall (1936-2010), a notable photographer of musicians and close friend of Mr. Cash. A signed print of this iconic photograph had only drawn three bids, the highest of which was only $870. A collector could blow this on a faded baseball card.

The photo used to belong to Justin French, 40 years old, whose life can imitate this art in Gilmer prison, a medium-security federal pen in Glenville, West Virginia. Mr. French was a Richmond, Va., real-estate developer until he was convicted of stealing millions from federal and state tax-credit programs designed to encourage redevelopment of historic buildings.

I wish the Marshals would give him back a piece that has only drawn a $385 bid as of this writing. It would fit nicely in his cell where he's expected to remain until 2025. It's by artist Ron Johnson and titled, "I've been down before."

Among the more interesting pieces up for auction are Rembrandt lithographs formerly owned by convicted Ponzi schemer Shawn Merriman, 49 years old, of Aurora, Colo. Though Mr. Merriman only stole about $20 million, he was a big hit on CNBC's series "American Greed," which dubbed him, "The Mormon Madoff." After ripping off his fellow Mormons, he's serving more than 12 years in a federal prison in South Dakota with little more than bare concrete walls for inspiration.

His former collection features works from the 1400s to the 1600s that portray Biblical scenes, from Adam and Eve and Abraham's sacrifice to Christ's resurrection and the stoning of St. Stephen.

One of Mr. Merriman's Rembrandts is titled, "Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple." I wonder if he ever looked at this piece and wondered;"hmm?" This work portrays the only violent act ever recorded in the life of Jesus, and it was Jesus beating the bejesus out of the religious con artists of his time. It had attracted a bid of only $1,225 as of this writing.

So far, museum directors, gallery owners, and people in the art business have shown the most interest in these auctions, an auctioneer spokesman said. But there are plenty of private individuals looking to bid as well.

This is yet another reason the U.S Marshals' ought to just archive these gems for the taxpayers, who've already paid dearly for them. There's always the risk somebody will run a Ponzi scheme just to buy this stuff.

(Al's Emporium, written by Dow Jones Newswires columnist Al Lewis, offers commentary and analysis on a wide range of business subjects through an unconventional perspective. Contact Al at al.lewis@dowjones.com or tellittoal.com)