Daniel Elie Bouaziz was a major art dealer and official appraiser specializing in high-end works of art. His Galerie Danieli and Danieli Fine Art in Palm Beach sold original, authentic, limited edition, signed works by iconic artists: Banksy, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein and Keith Haring.
He told his wealthy clients that the coins were “blue chip” investments. He got his finest works from a mysterious “German billionaire”.
But the FBI alleges that Bouaziz was actually selling a fake fantasy.
On Wednesday, Bouaziz, 68, pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging him with mail fraud, wire fraud and money laundering as part of a lucrative scheme selling cheap copies as a premium original artwork. The FBI Art Crime team accused Bouaziz of buying reproductions of artworks from auction sites, marking up the price and selling the artworks to his unsuspecting gallery clients.
Court records show the federal government plans to seize several assets – including three Rolls Royces, a 70ft boat and 10 real estate properties in South Florida – that prosecutors say Bouaziz bought with his tainted profits from the sale of works of art. In one instance, Bouaziz sold a fake nude print of Lichtenstein for $70,000 and used that money to buy a Cartier watch, according to the FBI.
The government will only be able to take his assets if prosecutors obtain a conviction from Bouaziz.
A defense attorney for Bouaziz, who was released on $500,000 bond after his arrest in May, says his client has a long-standing reputation as a reputable art dealer. Attorney Howard Schumacher referred the Herald to a statement he made to the New York Post.
“This government intrusion has had an impact on his reputation and he wants to clarify that,” Schumacher told the Post.
The West Palm Beach case isn’t the only alleged art fraud scandal in Florida. Last month, the director of the Orlando Museum of Art lost his job because of an exhibition organized by the museum featuring works by Basquiat that may not be authentic. The FBI raided the museum days earlier, ripping the disputed artworks from the walls.
An FBI criminal complaint filed in the Bouaziz case details interviews with six people who bought artwork for hundreds of thousands of dollars and found they had been defrauded with fakes. The document also mentions three witnesses who noticed something was wrong on Worth Avenue, an exclusive part of Palm Beach where Bouaziz’s galleries were located.
A witness told the FBI that there were several counterfeit Haring artworks on the walls of one of Bouaziz’s galleries in October 2021. The witness, who said the artworks were obviously fake, believed that Bouaziz would only need to sell a few dummy coins per month to cover his expenses, according to an affidavit filed with the criminal complaint.
A second witness told the FBI about fake Banksy artwork at Danieli Fine Art. The prices offered by Bouaziz did not seem fair to the witness since Banksy’s legitimate works were worth millions of dollars. The witness added that there was a signed work by Basquiat that was “1,000% fake,” the affidavit states.
A third witness visited Danieli Fine Art in March 2021 and saw more than 30 works of art, none of which appeared to be real, according to the document. This witness said he knew an art collector who purchased a Warhol piece called “Superman” that had a fake stamp on the back.
This “art collector” may actually have been an undercover agent.
Last September, an FBI agent with a hidden camera and microphone entered the Danieli Gallery and recorded conversations with Bouaziz, according to the affidavit.
The undercover agent and Bouaziz discussed several works of art at the gallery, including an original “Superman” by Warhol and a rare serigraph from Lichtenstein’s “Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum”. Bouaziz insisted that the works of art were not only legitimate, but great investments, according to the document.
“You can’t lose money here,” Bouaziz added, pointing to the Lichtenstein print.
The agent asked about the Warhol signature on the “Superman” coin.
“It’s very rare… He did uh, he did uh, he did a hundred ‘Superman’s, a hundred of them,” Bouaziz said, according to the affidavit. On the back of the coin was a stamp reading “CMOA,” which stands for the Carnegie Museum of Art in Warhol’s hometown of Pittsburgh.
Bouaziz also offered to sell the agent a painting of a blue dog by George Rodrigue for $48,000.
The agent settled on the Warhol piece and purchased it from Bouaziz for $25,000, the affidavit states. But before the gallery shipped the Warhol piece, the agent called and asked to replace it with the Lichtenstein print. The obligatory gallery.
FBI agents found evidence of potential forgery in the artwork, the affidavit states.
The CMOA stamp on Warhol’s coin was particularly suspicious. An FBI agent contacted the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh and spoke to a representative who said he was not aware of any partnership with the Carnegie Museum to print a “Superman” series. A representative from the Carnegie Museum said it has never published “Superman” prints and the museum does not have a “CMOA” stamp.
An FBI agent contacted the Rodrigue Studio, the exclusive gallery of Rodrigue’s work, and showed a curator the signature on the painting. “Certainly false,” said the curator. An invoice from an online live auction site shows that Bouaziz bought the painting for $140.
The Lichtenstein impression was no better, the affidavit says. A Bouaziz gallery employee told the undercover agent that Bouaziz got the impression from Hans Shemke, a “German billionaire who lived in Peru.” (Latin American media reported on a man named Hans-Wolfgang Schemke who has his own story with alleged fake paintings.) But records show that Bouaziz bought nothing from Shemke. He paid 450 euros for the printing of a Spanish company.
The FBI examined Lichtenstein’s fake print when it arrived in the mail. The signature was faked to look like it was signed with a pencil, according to the FBI.
In December, the undercover agent returned to Bouaziz’s gallery for a larger purchase. This time the agent purchased a collection of works believed to be by Basquiat, Banksy, Haring and Georgia O’Keeffe. The total was $22,000,000.
Banksy’s artwork sold for $140,000. Bouaziz actually bought it from Black River Auction, which was allegedly set up by a man incarcerated for selling counterfeit goods, for $518.40, according to the FBI affidavit.
Bouaziz had discussed Basquiat’s work with the undercover agent in September. He claimed to have obtained the work from Shemke who purchased it from the Basquiat family. Bouaziz and the agent agreed on the price: $12,000,000.
The FBI provided images of the artwork to a member of the late artist’s estate authentication committee. Another fake, according to Basquiat’s expert. According to the affidavit, Bouaziz purchased Basquiat’s work for $495.
Bouaziz’s alleged scheme came to an abrupt end on December 15, 2021, when the FBI executed search warrants at his galleries. Officers found documents and invoices from clients who had apparently paid thousands of dollars for fake artwork since 2020, according to the affidavit filed by federal prosecutor Sarah Schall.
A person gave Bouaziz a $200,000 deposit before purchasing several works, including a Warhol “Superman” print, the affidavit states. (It’s unclear if it was the same “Superman” with the fake stamp given to the undercover agent.) The client ended up spending $860,000 on fake artwork.
When the alleged victim became aware of the investigation, she contacted Bouaziz to ask him to reimburse his deposit. He returned $100,000, according to the document. Other customers have also received refunds from Bouaziz.
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Another person bought a “holy grail” of four works of art for $290,000. A group of contacts in New York told the client that the work “looked bad”. The prize was too good to be true, the band said. According to the FBI, they were right.
An individual and his relative told the FBI that they purchased two original Warhol pieces, “AND I LOVE YOU SO” and “Converse sneakers in conversation” for a total of $125,000. The client then hired a fine art adjuster who said neither were original.
In fact, the real original track “AND I LOVE YOU SO” was nowhere near South Florida. It’s at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh. The version of the piece purchased by the customer was a licensed copy for a children’s book. The second work, according to the affidavit, is not even based on any known Warhol piece.
Bouaziz had purchased the “AND I LOVE YOU SO” copy for $100, the document says. He sold it to the client for $85,000.
The alleged victim was new to the art collection.
This story was produced with the financial support of the Pérez Family Foundation, in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners, as part of an independent journalism grant program. The Miami Herald retains full editorial control of this work.
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