An art dealer in Palm Beach, Florida, pleaded guilty Tuesday (21 February) to laundering money from a scheme in which he sold counterfeit works by blue-chip artists for sky-high prices out of his South Florida galleries.
Daniel Elie Bouaziz, from Danieli Fine Art and Galerie Danieli in Palm Beach County, signed a proffer stating he knowingly engaged in interstate commerce of more than $10,000 from the unlawful sale of counterfeit art, a violation of wire fraud, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said (proffer agreements are often made with the understanding the prosecutor will offer a favourable plea bargain or grant immunity in exchange for cooperation).
Last October, Bouaziz sold works to a customer that included what he claimed were authentic and original pieces by artist Andy Warhol, some of which he claimed were signed, according to the DOJ. The customer put down a $200,000 payment for the art, which was deposited into Bouaziz’s account and later commingled with other funds that were wired to other accounts.
According to Bouaziz’s July 2022 indictment, the art dealer attempted to sell fake art by other artists including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Banksy and Roy Lichtenstein, all of whose works routinely command seven-figure prices at auction. The DOJ said Bouaziz had a fake Basquiat painting on sale for $12m at Danieli Fine Art when he was charged last October.
Bouaziz would purchase reproductions at low prices and sell the pieces as originals at a steep markup, according to the DOJ, which accused him of misleading potential customers with fake invoices and provenance documents. Victims unknowingly purchased the fraudulent work “for tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars”, the DOJ said in October.
Last year, the Orlando Museum of Art came under fire after the FBI seized 25 allegedly fake paintings attributed to Basquiat from the museum’s exhibition centred on the artist.