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New York art dealer pleads guilty to multimillion-dollar fraud

The court has ordered that Ezra Chowaiki forfeit over $16.6m as well as works by Picasso, Calder, Chagall and Degas

On 27 September 2018, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, sentenced Ezra Chowaiki to 18 months in prison and three years of supervised release. Chowaiki was also ordered to forfeit his interest in more than 20 works of art that had been fraudulently transferred, including works by Picasso, Degas, and Calder.

The former art dealer Ezra Chowaiki leaves Federal Court with his lawyer after his arraignment in December Matthew McDermott/Polaris

The New York art dealer Ezra Chowaiki, whom US federal prosecutors have charged with fraud and transportation of stolen goods estimated at more than $16m, pled guilty to one count of wire fraud last Thursday (3 May).

Chowaiki, the former head of Chowaiki & Company Fine Art on Park Avenue, which filed for backruptcy in November, is to be sentenced on 12 September. The court has ordered that he forfeit over $16.6m and 20-plus works of art by Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Cindy Sherman, Piet Mondrian, Max Ernst, Edgar Degas and many others.

“As he admitted today in federal court, Ezra Chowaiki ran a multimillion-dollar fraud on art dealers and collectors around the country,” said the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey Berman, in a statement on Thursday. “In some instances, Chowaiki sold artwork, purportedly on consignment, without the owners’ authorisation. In other instances, he took money from clients purportedly to purchase artwork, and kept the money but purchased no art.”

In December 2017, prosecutors charged Chowaiki with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud, and one count of interstate transport of stolen goods.