Federal agents charged a dealer in Palm Beach, Florida, with wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering for selling allegedly fake works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and others for millions of dollars.
Through his galleries Danieli Fine Art and Galerie Danieli, Daniel Elie Bouaziz allegedly sold reproductions of artworks that were stamped with fake seals of authenticity.
A complaint filed on May 25 in the United States District Court of the Southern District of Florida alleged that Bouaziz had also sold fake works by Banksy, Henri Matisse, Frederick Hundertwasser, Keith Haring, and more.
In several cases, Bouaziz appears to have bought works for relatively low sums and then sold them for dramatically larger amounts.
The most expensive work in the case was an unnamed painting supposedly by Basquiat that Bouaziz is believed to have bought on the website LiveAuctioneers for $495. He then sold it to an undercover FBI agent for $12 million, according to the complaint.
When the agent asked Bouaziz, a French citizen who was born in Algeria, about the painting’s authenticity, the dealer reportedly said, “Provenance is father of Basquiat so there is not really a conversation about it.” The FBI claims that it contacted a former member of the Basquiat estate’s now-defunct authentication committee, who was not named in the suit, and that this expert said the work was a fake.
An undercover agent also bought a Lichtenstein print from Bouaziz titled The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Bouaziz had bought it through LiveAuctioneers for €450 ($485) and sold it for $25,000. According to the suit, a look at Lichtenstein’s catalogue raisonné revealed that the real artwork had “noticeably different” colors as well as other authenticating factors, including a penciled note on it demarcating its edition, which Bouaziz’s work did not have.
Federal investigators said that certain victims of Bouaziz’s alleged scheme had contacted the dealer following their purchases, claiming that the works they bought were fake, and demanded money back.
“Other victims, who also reported concerns to Bouaziz about the authenticity of their purchased work, both before and after the execution of the gallery search warrants, received some repayment from Bouaziz,” the suit claims.
Bouaziz is currently facing four charges, each of which comes with a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of between $250,000 and $500,000.
Based on documents filed this past weekend in Florida, it was not clear whether Bouaziz had entered a plea. A lawyer for Bouaziz did not immediately respond to request for comment.