The Palm Beach art dealer Daniel Elie Bouaziz pleaded guilty yesterday to selling a counterfeit artwork by Andy Warhol, according to recent court filings.
In the spring of 2022, special agent Marc A. Gervasi, of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, submitted a complaint to the Southern Florida District Court outlining the findings of his investigation into the dealings of Bouaziz. Gervasi suspected Bouaziz of selling faked works by artists like Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring, and Banksy out of his two Palm Beach galleries, Danieli Fine Art and Galerie Danieli, to at least six people.
During the course of the investigation, law enforcement officials went undercover and bought a fake work from Bouaziz for $25,000, a “Superman” print. During the deal, Bouaziz allegedly told the undercover agent, “This is very rare …He like a hundred of Superman, a hundred of them. This is, this is one of [sic] to me, this is one of the good ones. You know, that’s a beauty. It’s a small number. It’s really good.”
The back of the print had a stamp from the Carnegie Museum of Art; Bouaziz allegedly put it there to make the work look more authentic. Gervasi said he checked with the Andy Warhol Foundation and Carnegie Museum, and found that the museum was not authorized to produce and distribute “Superman” edition prints and had apparently not done so.
Gervasi and undercover agents continued to buy works from Bouaziz. Each time, Bouaziz allegedly provided proof of their authenticity and promised that the undercover agents were getting good prices. Bouaziz often claimed to have sourced work from a German millionaire living in Peru or from reputable galleries and auction houses.
Each time, Gervasi and the undercover agents would document the pieces and their attendant provenance documents, and find that they were faked. In their final sting, in late 2021, the Art Crime team agreed to purchase a collection of works by Basquiat, Haring, Banksy, and Georgia O’Keeffe for $22 million. The team gave Bouaziz a downpayment in Bitcoin. Included in this collection was a work by Basquiat that Bouaziz was selling for $12 million. Gervasi found that Bouaziz had sourced that exact work from an auction website for $495.
“The FBI did not observe a single transaction in those accounts in which Bouaziz or his galleries purchased high-value artwork commensurate with the artwork Bouaziz sold to victims as original pieces,” wrote Gervasi in his complaint. “Bouaziz purchased low-cost reproductions from online auction sites that he then resold to unsuspecting victims, as originals, at drastically increased prices.”
Further complicating matters is the fact that Bouaziz is in America on a B-2 visa, or a tourist visa, which means that he is not allowed to operate a business in the US.
Yesterday, Bouaziz pleaded guilty to one count of money laundering, referencing a sale of counterfeit Warhol works to an unnamed victim. Bouaziz received a downpayment of $200,000, which he then wired to other accounts.
The court agreed to drop 16 other counts. Bouaziz will be sentenced on May 30.