A French man who owns two galleries on Palm Beach’s exclusive Worth Avenue has been charged with selling fake paintings from some of the most renowned artists to unsuspecting buyers.
Daniel Elie Bouaziz, who owns the Danieli Fine Art Gallery and Galerie Daniel, is accused of selling fake Banksy and Ray Lichtenstein paintings for hundreds of thousands of dollars – despite buying the replicas for just hundreds.
Each painting included forged signatures and documents falsely stating the pieces’ ownership histories and documenting their authenticity, federal prosecutors claim, according to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
He then allegedly used the profits to buy luxury items including a Lamborghini, a Rolex watch and Cartier jewelry.
Bouaziz, 68, is now facing charges of mail and wire fraud, laundering of monetary instruments and monetary laundering.
He faces up to 20 years in prison, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, but has pleaded not guilty to the charges, according to the New York Post.
Bouaziz is due back in court on June 15. He is now out on bond, after paying $500,000 on Friday during his initial court appearance.
He owns two galleries on Palm Beach’s exclusive Worth Avenue, including Danieli Fine Art
Federal prosecutors claim Bouaziz, a French citizen of Algerian descent, scammed a total of six victims who paid thousands of dollars for common reproductions of famous paintings.
In one case, prosecutors say, Bouaziz bought an Andy Warhol facsimile for $100, and sold it for $85,000.
Another unsuspecting purchaser signed over a whopping $120,000 for two pieces Bouaziz bought for just $600, according to a federal indictment.
To keep the scam going, federal prosecutors say, Bouaziz allegedly cast himself as an unimpeachable art appraiser and would provide his customers with certificates of authenticity.
But federal agents caught on to his alleged scheme in 2021 after several patrons alerted them that the works of Lichtenstein and others would be worth millions of dollars – and not the several thousand he charged them.
FBI agents then went undercover and agreed to purchase a bogus Warhol from Bouaziz for $26,000 and set up an additional deal worth $22 million before his arrest last week.
They also recorded conversations with Bouaziz at his Palm Beach galleries, including one in which he allegedly told the agents, ‘I really gave you a fantastic price’ on a signed Warhol Superman print. ‘You can only make money.’
In another conversation, the Associated Press reports, Bouaziz said: ‘I buy about 200 paintings in auction every year, and I guarantee my stuff.
‘I’m not buying things that everybody has. That’s why you don’t see them in the other galleries,’ he allegedly told the undercover agents.
He then allegedly offered the undercover agents a Basquiat he bought for 495 Euros at a selling price of $12 million.
Federal prosecutors claim Bouaziz then used the money to buy a Lamborghini, Rolex watch and Cartier jewelry.
Federal prosecutors claim he sold replicas of paintings – like this one by Basquiat- for tens of thousands of dollars and included letters of authenticity
Federal prosecutors claim Bouaziz, a French citizen of Algerian descent, allegedlt scammed a total of six victims who paid thousands of dollars for common reproductions of famous paintings
They eventually raided his galleries in December, when Mario, a Palm Beach resident told WPBF he saw FBI agents walking out of the shop with boxes.
They then covered the windows of the shop, according to Local 10 News, and surrounded it with yellow crime scene tape.
The FBI is saying that there may be other victims and anyone with information can call FBI’s Art Crime Team at 1-800-CALL-FBI.
But Bouaziz’s attorney, Howard Schumacher, told the New York Post that his client is an honest dealer in the Palm Beach area, and prices are inherently subjective.
He added that Bouaziz has already given money back to dissatisfied customers, and said: ‘He has a tremendous following on the island in an area that is very eclectic.’
Schumacher also said Bouaziz plans to plead not guilty at his next court appearance on June 15.
‘This intrusion by the government has had an impact on his reputation, and he wants to clear that,’ Schumacher said.