Unprecedented paintings sold with the help of experts. Prosecutors say it was a scam.
In Florida, art dealer Daniel Bouaziz was charged with money laundering and fraud. This is Bouaziz’s first appearance in a Florida court. Last year, Bouaziz claimed to be the owner of work that belonged to Picasso and Monet.
By Claire Fahy
June 1, 2022
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The owner of the gallery offered the customer anything they want, no questions asked, as long as they paid it in cash by June 1st. The customer wanted four works by Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring and Henri Matisse, payments dated $290,000 on a credit card in April 2021.
Federal prosecutors believe that the deal that was being offered was designed to be too good to be true.
In October, Daniel Bouaziz appeared in federal court in Florida to face charges of fraud and money laundering. Prosecutors allege that pieces that Bouaziz represented as authentic works were actually cheap reproductions that he bought through online auctions.
Mr. Bouaziz was eventually charged after a thorough investigation revealed that he was selling counterfeit art that had been purchased by six victims. Authorities even sent a team of undercover buyers to purchase the illicit work and later determined it had been counterfeited.
A customer who purchased a Lichtenstein print from our Dallas gallery found herself in quite a predicament. The original artwork had gone missing and we were contacted by the FBI. They were investigating because the print looked different than it should, and some edition numbers were incorrect. The customer then found an exact duplicate of the print on eBay but for only $535.50.
“It’s a bit subjective,” Howard Schumacher, the lawyer representing Bouaziz, said. “Everything is done to try to make sure that what’s being sold is what it’s purported to be,” but he said “there’s always the possibility” of fakes, which are typically more intricate and difficult than other types of frauds.
He allegedly sold counterfeit Banksy and Warhol prints for $140,000 and more. The customer from April isn’t alone in buying the falsely-advertised originals, according to the complaint.
There are different kinds of prints, just like there are different kinds of people. There’s lithographs, and reproductions, and many times the lithographs and reproductions are authorized by whoever manages that artist’s portfolio. That doesn’t mean the lithographs and reproductions have value in every genre.
Mr. Schumacher confirmed that Mr. Bouaziz had offered each of the clients full refunds when they lost their money to him. Prosecutors also reveal that Mr. Bouaziz laundered his victims’ funds by using them for a variety of personal items, including a watch from Cartier, a car from Lamborghini, and a gun collection limited to 100 pieces
John Bouaziz sold art through three companies: Galerie Danieli, Danieli Fine Art and VIP Rentals LLC. He ran his art business under the Danieli Fine Art website, which advertises a wide variety of artists, including Monet, Rodin, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Willem de Kooning.
Christopher Schumacher, the director of the U.S. attorney’s office, remarked that there was a good number of items taken from his galleries and some of these pieces may not have been subsequently examined by experts in order to determine their legitimacy.
A pastel drawing of a man by Salvador Dali sold for $70,000 in September 2020 to an undercover agent who was investigating art fraud. The drawing had been valued by Mr. Bouaziz at around $25,000 and was described as “top-notch” according to the complaint.
In January 2021, Mr. Bouaziz purchased what he thought was an original lithograph online. It turns out the company in Spain was selling a screen print of the same lithograph with an identical artistic signature to that of the original. This fake artwork was found by Internet Crimes Complaint Center Art Crime Team and they were able to determine that it had been mechanically reproduced and not genuine at all.
Mr. Bouaziz, a French citizen, who was born in Algeria, is dealing with the stress of trying to start a business while living here on a visitor’s visa. A few months ago his request for a loan under the Paycheck Protection Program was denied because he submitted false information claiming he was still a U.S. citizen.
Mr. Schumacher declined to give any information regarding his client’s immigration status.