ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
Thomas Kinkade bills himself as the painter of light. He says God is his art agent. Kinkade has built an enormous business from his idyllic paintings, which might show pastel skies floating over a country chapel by a stream or a stone cottage covered in slow warmly illuminated from within.
He claims to be America's most collected living artist and a devout Christian who spreads life affirming values through his art. But an alleged darker side of this painter of light is sketched in civil litigation filed against Kinkade's company. And the Los Angeles Times is reporting that now the FBI is investigating allegations of fraud against Kinkade.
Kim Christensen has been following the story for the L.A. Times, and he explains the allegations against Kinkade.
Mr. KIM CHRISTENSEN (L.A. Times): The primary allegations in the civil litigation brought by the gallery owners are that he and executives in his company induced them to invest and that once they did and puts tens of thousands of dollars and in some cases hundreds of thousands, of dollars into their business that the company basically ruined them financially through a series of unfair business practices.
Some of these are alleged to have including channel stuffing, which is a term for the company forcing the gallery owners to buy certain numbers of prints. And they claim that they, in some cases, had to buy so many that they were unsaleable. They also contend that they were pressured to open additional stores in markets that were already saturated.
BLOCK: Thomas Kinkade did lose one lawsuit earlier this year, civil lawsuit, filed by a married couple, gallery owners in Virginia. What were they able to prove?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN: Well, he did. He had successfully defended against several of these previously. But in this case, a three-member panel of the American Arbitration Association awarded this couple $866,000 after finding that the company had fraudulently induced them to invest.
The panel did not single Kinkade out, but wrote that he and other Media Arts Group executives - that was the name of the company at the time - had created a "certain religious environment designed to instill a special relationship of trust" at what was known as Thomas Kinkade University, which was a training program where prospective gallery owners would come, spend the week and get the sales pitch.
BLOCK: What has Thomas Kinkade said in response to these charges?
Mr. CHRISTENSEN: Well, he's not talked to me, despite repeated requests. Through the company, he and the company have denied all of these allegations. They contend that the reason these gallery owners failed had to do with several factors unrelated to the company's behavior or Mr. Kinkade's behavior.
BLOCK: You're also been going through depositions in these cases and doing your own interviews and finding testimony about this man that's quite at odds with the image that he projects.
Mr. CHRISTENSEN: I have. During the course of some of the arbitration, testimony was elicited that described various incidents in which Mr. Kinkade behaved badly in public, oftentimes apparently under the influence of alcohol.
There was one incident where he and family members were in Los Vegas and he began heckling Siegfried and Roy on stage. Another incident at a signing party, in which kind of a bawdy discussion of some of the anatomy of the women in attendance there took place, during which Mr. Kinkade walked over to one of them, reached out and grabbed her breast and said these are great breasts.
BLOCK: That was something that was witnessed by a number of people. That's not just one woman saying this happened.
Mr. CHRISTENSEN: It was witnessed by a number of people, and I spoke with four of them, including the woman. And when questioned about that during his deposition he said he didn't recall it. We published these accounts of his behavior and he did not dispute any of them individually. He labeled them ridiculous.
BLOCK: Kim Christensen, thanks very much.
Mr. CHRISTENSEN: Thank you.
BLOCK: Kim Christensen writes for the Los Angeles Times. We also contacted Mr. Kinkade's company, and in a written statement the company denied any wrongdoing. It says the allegations made by its critics and reports in the media are inaccurate and based on rumors.
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