Florida art dealer Daniel Elie Bouaziz has been charged with wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering for allegedly selling fake works attributed to big names such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Banksy, Henri Matisse, Keith Haring and Roy Lichtenstein.
News of Bouraziz’s alleged illegal activities first emerged when the FBI raided one of his Palm Beach galleries, Danieli Fine Arts, in December. He is also the owner of Galerie Danieli; both businesses are located on Worth Avenue, which has become a hotspot for prestigious international art galleries in the wealthy Florida panhandle.
Galerie Danieli stood out from its white cube and blue chip neighbours. It was decorated with velvet ropes, a red carpet, and exaggerated crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The art hung living room style alongside large TV screens displaying NFT drops.
When Artnet News visited in December, a few days before the raid, a gallery employee severely reprimanded us for taking pictures.
Authorities believe many counterfeits are cheap reproductions with false seals of authenticity, such as a “Basquiat” that Bouaziz is accused of buying on LiveAuctioneers for $495 before returning it to an undercover FBI agent for 12 millions of dollars.
“The provenance is Basquiat’s father so there’s not really a conversation about it,” Bouaziz reportedly assured the buyer. According to the FBI, a now-defunct former member of Basquiat’s authentication committee identified the work as a forgery. The artwork was part of a collection that included cheap imitations of Banksy, Haring and Georgia O’Keeffe on offer for $22 million.
Bouaziz also reportedly sold a €450 ($485) Lichtenstein print to an undercover agent for $25,000. Investigators discovered that it had different colors from the actual version included in the artist’s catalog raisonné.
The Algerian-born French art dealer also tried to trick an agent into buying an alleged painting by George Rodrigue, blue dog, claiming it was from a Palm Beach collector: “Not much to say. It’s just a beauty,” Bouaziz said in the complaint. He originally bought it for $140 but was offering it for $48,000, authorities said.
One of Bouaziz’s alleged victims spent $85,000 on a $100 Warhol reproduction billed as the real deal, according to the criminal complaint. Another thought he had landed a Lichtenstein, a Matisse and a Warhol for $290,000 – until a New York gallery manager warned him that this “holy grail” was “too good for be true”.
To pass off the counterfeits as originals, Bouaziz allegedly forged signatures and provided false provenance documents.
Eventually, some of Bouaziz’s dissatisfied customers began demanding their money back.
“Other victims, who also reported to Bouaziz concerns about the authenticity of their purchased work, both before and after the gallery’s search warrants were executed, have received reimbursement from Bouaziz,” says the trial.
Bouaziz appeared in West Palm Beach court on Friday and was released on $500,000 bail. He has not yet entered a plea.
Each of the four charges Bouaziz faces could result in up to 20 years behind bars and a fine of $250,000 to $500,000. Artnet News was unable to reach the gallery for comment.
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