A Frenchman who owns two galleries on Palm Beach’s exclusive Worth Avenue has been accused of selling fake paintings by some of the most renowned artists to unsuspecting buyers.
Daniel Elie Bouaziz, owner of the Danieli Fine Art Gallery and Galerie Daniel, is accused of selling fake paintings by Banksy, Jean-Michael Basquiat and Ray Lichtenstein for hundreds of thousands of dollars, despite buying the replicas for only hundreds.
Each painting contained forged signatures and documents falsely stating the pieces’ ownership history and documenting their authenticity, federal prosecutors allege, 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 charged with postal and telephony fraud, money laundering and money laundering.
He faces up to 20 years in prison, along with hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines, but has pleaded not guilty, according to the New York Post.
Bouaziz is due to appear in court again on June 15. He is now out on bail after paying $500,000 in his first trial on Friday.
He owns two galleries on Palm Beach’s exclusive Worth Avenue, including Danieli Fine Art
Federal prosecutors allege that Bouaziz, a French citizen of Algerian descent, defrauded a total of six victims who paid thousands of dollars for ordinary 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 buyer signed for as much as $120,000 for two pieces that Bouaziz bought for just $600, according to a federal lawsuit.
To perpetuate the scam, federal prosecutors say, Bouaziz allegedly portrayed himself as an impeccable art appraiser and provided his clients with certificates of authenticity.
But federal agents caught his alleged plan in 2021 after several patrons warned 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 buy a fake 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 in his Palm Beach galleries, including one in which he reportedly 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 reported, Bouaziz said, “I buy about 200 paintings every year at auction and I guarantee my stuff.
‘I don’t buy things that everyone else has. That’s why you don’t see them in the other galleries,” he is said to have told the undercover officers.
He then allegedly offered the undercover agents a Basquiat that he bought for $495 at a sale price of $12 million.
Federal prosecutors allege that Bouaziz then used the money to buy a Lamborghini, Rolex watch and Cartier jewelry.
Federal prosecutors allege he sold replicas of paintings — like this one by Basquiat — for tens of thousands of dollars and enclosed letters of authenticity
Federal prosecutors allege that Bouaziz, a French citizen of Algerian descent, allegedly defrauded a total of six victims who paid thousands of dollars for ordinary reproductions of famous paintings
They finally raided his galleries in December when Mario, a Palm Beach resident, told WPBF that he saw FBI agents walking out of the store carrying boxes.
They then covered the store’s windows, according to Local 10 News, and surrounded it with yellow crime scene tape.
The FBI says there may be other victims and anyone with information can call the 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 that prices are inherently subjective.
He added that Bouaziz has already returned money to disgruntled customers, saying: “He has a huge following on the island in a very eclectic area.”
Schumacher also said Bouaziz plans to plead innocent at his next trial on June 15.
“This government interference has had an impact on his reputation, and he wants to clarify that,” Schumacher said.