ATLANTA - A longtime Atlanta art dealer admitted he did not reimburse artists for work he sold and today paid back more than a quarter of a million dollars he owed them.
Bill Lowe's criminal case comes seven years after the FOX 5 I-Team was the first to raise questions about Lowe's business dealings, including lawsuits and complaints from some big name artists across the country.
Many artists rely on art galleries like non-artists might use a consignment shop to sell clothing or furniture. The gallery keeps a percentage after sending the artist their money. But time after time, Bill Lowe now admits the artists did not get what was coming to them.
During a news conference at the Fulton County courthouse, district attorney Paul Howard hoisted the kind of art anyone can appreciate: a giant pretend check made out to 11 artists for a total of $256,514.62.
"This has been going on for well over a decade," explained executive director of the Georgia lawyers for the arts Meredith Ragains.
Seven years ago, in fact, the FOX 5 I-Team began investigating Lowe. At the time, he operated out of a stylish space in midtown.
But artists complained it was all a facade. World class artists like painter Donald Sultan.
"I think people should realize that this man is a crook," Sultan flatly complained to us back in 2010.
Bill Lowe admitted then he owed artists a lot of money, failing to pass along the customary 50 percent share of the sale. But in 2010, he told us it was nothing criminal.
"The economy dealt us a very, very damaging blow," he stated. "We're fighting to regain our equilibrium and we intend to pay everyone everything we owe."
But the Atlanta police white collar crime unit was not convinced.
"Mr. Lowe was taking their money and enhancing his own lifestyle," explained Sgt. Paul Cooper. "Fine dining. Luxury cars. Travel. Buying things you and I can't buy."
Attorney Patricia Roy represents two artists owed a total of $27,000.
"They didn't even know their art work had sold so what happened for many of them they showed up at the gallery to demand their artwork back and he wouldn't have it," she recounted.
Lowe pled guilty to one count of theft by conversion, and will serve the next 10 years on probation. He signed a statement admitting he didn't pay the artists like he should have. The real checks went out this week.
"Bill Lowe has been taking money from artists for years," stated attorney Kevin Bahr who represents Donald Sultan. "Justice has finally been brought to bear on him. If he takes money ever again, he will go to prison."
Since our original investigation Lowe has moved his gallery to another part of Atlanta.