Published: 06:00, 04 September 2021
| Updated: 07:49, 04 September 2021
Three men organised an £18,000 scam involving a painting of Marilyn Monroe's lips at a Bluewater art gallery.
The gang went to Whitewall Gallery where they bought the piece of art by Craig Allen for £6,445.
But they tricked the assistant by pretending to pay with a credit card before diverting the bill to another innocent account.
Then, while the painting was being packed, the trio used the card machine to illegally claim refunds.
Judge Charles Gratwicke stopped the prosecution from revealing in open court precise details of how they carried out the brazen frauds.
Thieves Kouassi Bognini, 26, of Turners Court, St Ann's Road, North London; Ede Obhiagbon, 26, of Oldfield Place, Dartford; and Gregory Bomboko, 25, of Valkyrie Road, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex all pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiring to defraud the gallery.
The judge told them: "You took this property and simply waltzed out without caring... but you are nothing more than common thieves and should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself."
But all three avoided going straight to prison after Maidstone Crown Court heard how two of the conmen have either repaid or offered to repay most of the money.
Prosecutor Andrew Evans told how the men went into the gallery in Bluewater and chose Craig Allen's Marilyn Monroe's Lips artwork for £5,950 and another called Penguin for £495 and paid with credit cards.
He added that the conmen managed to get around the chip and pin method of paying and then distracted the assistant while they carried out fraud.
The court heard how the gang stole thousands more when she went upstairs to pack the pictures.
They used the machine to arrange refunds to themselves via card numbers from other unsuspecting victims.
The court heard that the paintings were later returned to the gallery and then sold legally to genuine buyers.
The three received 16-month jail sentences suspended for two years. Obhiagbon was also ordered to do 200 hours of unpaid work for the community.