Federal agents charged a dealer in Palm Beach, Florida, with wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering for selling allegedly counterfeit works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichenstein and other artists for millions of dollars. Through the Danieli Fine Art and Galerie Danieli galleries, Daniel Elie Bouaziz sold reproductions of works of art stamped with fake seals of authenticity. A complaint filed on May 25 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida alleged that Bouaziz had also sold fake works by Banksy, Henri Matisse, Frederick Hundertwasser, Keith Haring and others. In several cases, Bouaziz appears to have bought works for relatively low sums and then sold them for dramatically higher sums. The most expensive work was an unnamed painting supposedly by Basquiat which Bouaziz purchased on the LiveAuctioneers website for $495. It was sold to an undercover FBI agent for $12 million, according to the complaint. When the agent asked Bouaziz, a French citizen born in Algeria, about the authenticity of the painting, the dealer replied: “Provenance is father of Basquiat so there is not really a conversation about it”. The FBI agent claims he contacted a former member of the now-defunct Authentication Committee for the estate of Basquiat, who was not named in the process, and this expert said the work was fake.
An undercover agent also purchased an engraving of Lichtenstein from Bouaziz titled The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Bouaziz bought this piece through LiveAuctioneers for €450 ($485) and sold it for $25,000. According to the lawsuit, it was found in Lichtenstein's catalog raisonné that the actual work had "visibly different" colors, in addition to other authentication factors, including a penciled note demarcating its edition, which Bouaziz's work did not have. Federal investigators said some victims of Bouaziz's alleged scheme contacted the dealer after their purchases, claiming the works they purchased were fake and demanded money back.
“Other victims, who also reported concerns to Bouaziz about the authenticity of their purchased work, both before and after the execution of the gallery search warrants, received some repayment from Bouaziz”, states the lawsuit. Bouaziz currently faces four charges, each carrying a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of between $250,000 and $500,000. Based on documents filed this past weekend in Florida, it was unclear whether Bouaziz had filed a claim. Bouaziz's attorney has yet to respond to a request for comment.