Heights Art Heist Update

Lawyers loom, tempers flare

COVER STORY

Heights Art Heist Update
Lawyers loom, tempers flare

By John Nova Lomax

Developments continue in the story of H Gallery, the Heights art gallery that is alleged to have been ripping off artists for the past several years. (See "The Great Heights Art Heist," March 3.)

Recently, H director Heidi Powell-Prera showed up at the Heights' First Saturday Arts Market, a monthly outdoor gathering held across the street and down the block from H.

Mitch Cohen, director of the arts market, had read our story and forewarned many of the artists in the market not to do business with Powell-Prera, but the gallerist apparently did not know she was unwelcome on the premises.

She suddenly became aware of that state of affairs when a sculptor (who does not want to be named) suddenly got in her face and called her a crook. Cohen said he intervened, as he was alarmed at the level of anger, both that of the sculptor (who is not a subject in our article but who also claims to have been taken by H Gallery) and Powell-Prera.

"I couldn't believe how irate she was," Cohen says. "She was acting like she was justified in being there." Cohen said he noticed that she had harvested a few artists' business cards before he asked her to leave.

He also said he had a sad moment earlier in the day. An artist friend of his who had not yet read our story was all smiles and telling all and sundry about the gallery show he had just contracted to put on at H Gallery. Cohen had to break it to him that H was, um, somewhat embattled, and the poor artist was worried that he had not only almost been taken, but had somehow incurred the wrath of his fellow artists who thought he had chosen the side of H Gallery over them. (Cohen told him that was not the case.)

Meanwhile, H Gallery appears to be facing legal battles in both civil and criminal court.

At least one of the artists in our article and the Better Business Bureau have approached the Houston Police Department and/or the Harris County District Attorney's office about launching a criminal investigation of the gallery. A case could and might soon be made that gallery principals Heidi Powell-Prera and Sandra Bernstein are not merely incompetent businesswomen, but criminal fraudsters.

Things are moving towards civil litigation as well. Last week we wrote that the ripped-off artists had been advised by a lawyer to each file individual small-claims suits against the gallery. The lawyer told them that while they likely wouldn't collect much if any money, they could at least have the satisfaction of knowing that the gallery owners were having to deal with process servers and other such bummers on a weekly basis.

Local attorney F. Richard Leach points out all those lawsuits would be expensive in the aggregate and would require time commitments from more than a dozen artists. He thinks he has a better strategy, and it won't cost the allegedly afflicted artists a dime.

"An alternative is for the group of artists, as a group, file a single lawsuit in county court," he writes via e-mail. "The group would have to be represented by an attorney. Court costs would be one filling fee, and one service fee per defendant. The lawyer would do what he does best and the artists would be free to do what they do best."

Leach says he would be willing to take the case pro bono, and pay all court costs.
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CRIME

Honey, Where's My Child-Porn CD?

By Richard Connelly

When you're very, very estranged from your wife because she thinks you've been cheating, there are several conversations you desperately hope never to have.

Chief among them would likely be something along the lines of, "Umm, honey, have you seen my CD with the child porn on it?"

Ali Manual Cortez had a version of that conversation, and couldn't have been happy with his wife's response, which was basically, "Oh, you mean the CD I handed over to the police? Yeah, I saw that."

Cortez, of Katy, has been charged with possession of child porn as a result, court documents show.

He told investigators the CD, which was labeled "Famousa," was "a gift from a friend in Venezuela and he had intentions of destroying it."

Instead, he left it in a bag in his house while he went off to live elsewhere, which is probably not the optimum strategy in the porn-stash-hiding playbook.

Cortez's wife told investigators she was "in the study looking for signs of infidelity" when she found the CD.

She called the cops; an officer said in the court documents the CD contained three videos, featuring kids aged ten to 14 having sex with each other or, in one case, with an adult male.
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Doing It Daily

There’s tons of stuff each day on the Houston Press blogs; you’re only getting a taste of it here in the print edition. Head to blogs.houstonpress.com/hairballs (or “/rocks” or “/eating” or “/artattack”).

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