A complaint filed in South Florida federal court Thursday accused the Palm Beach art dealer Daniel Elie Bouaziz of mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering in his alleged scheme to sell forged copies of high-end art.
Bouaziz, a French citizen of Algerian descent, was ordered released on $500,000 bail after an initial hearing Friday. As of Friday he had not yet entered a plea to the charges, according to court records. He's looking at several years of federal prison time, but we'll see what he actually ends up getting. It was my experience that judges didn't see art crime as big of a deal as, say, bank robbery.
Bouaziz sold some of the forged art pieces for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece, prosecutors said. An FBI criminal affidavit said undercover agents put $22 million down for several of the fake pieces which was a heck of a lot more than anything I've seen spent on an art crime case before. Glad to see there's plenty of money for investigations these days.
Claiming to be an art expert and an official appraiser, Bouaziz appraised the inauthentic artwork he sold to the victims at an increased rate, the FBI affidavit said. In one extreme example, the FBI says Bouaziz bought a Warhol reproduction print for $100 and sold it for $85,000.
He operated two art galleries on Palm Beach's famed Worth Avenue, one of the wealthiest places in the U.S. Con men understand that looking the part is a huge piece of the con if you want it to be successful. Of course he had to lay out funds to open galleries in those high-rent districts, but he knew it was a good investment if he could continue to get away with selling fake pieces of art.
The FBI did not observe a single transaction in his bank accounts in which Bouaziz, or his galleries, purchased high-value artwork, the affidavit says. Bouaziz purchased low-cost reproductions from online auction sites that he then resold to unsuspecting victims, as originals, at drastically increased prices. In an overheated art market there are victims literally lining up to be taken advantage of, all suffering from FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).
For example, an original Andy Warhol painting would likely sell for millions of dollars. Bouaziz, according to the FBI, sold one of Warhol's works called Superman, of which there were several versions, for just $25,000.
"I buy about 200 paintings in auction every year and I guarantee my stuff. I mean I am behind my stuff," Bouaziz said in a conversation recorded by the FBI. "I'm not buying things that everybody has. That's why you don't see them in the other galleries."
The affidavit does not say how many people were victimized. Bouaziz will have a plea hearing on June 15 and no trial date has been set as of yet. Many times victims are too embarrassed to come forward so it will be interesting to see if the government ever gets a true accounting of how many fake pieces were sold.
EXCALIBUR Private Investigation