Florida gallery owner charged with peddling fake art

ST. PETERSBURG, Florida — A Florida gallerist has been arrested on federal charges for trafficking fake art, claiming the cheap reproductions were actually originals by Andy Warhol, Banksy, Roy Lichtenstein, Jean-Michel Basquiat and others, federal prosecutors said.

A lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court in South Florida accuses 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 released on $500,000 bail after an initial hearing on Friday. He has yet to plead against the charges, according to court records. He faces several years in prison if convicted.

Bouaziz sold some of the forged artworks for hundreds of thousands of dollars apiece, prosecutors said in a press release. An FBI criminal affidavit said undercover agents planted $22 million for several of the fake coins.

Claiming to be an art expert and official appraiser, Bouaziz appraised the inauthentic works of art he sold to victims at an increased rate, according to the FBI affidavit. To give an example, the FBI says Bouaziz bought a reproduction of Warhol for $100 and resold it for $85,000.

He operated two art galleries on the famous Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, one of the wealthiest places in the United States.

“The FBI did not observe a single transaction on these accounts in which Bouaziz or his galleries purchased high-value artwork,” the affidavit states. “Bouaziz bought low-priced reproductions from online auction sites which he then resold to unsuspecting victims, as originals, at vastly inflated prices.

And even those were weak. 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 entitled “Superman”, of which there are several versions, for only $25,000.

“I buy about 200 paintings at auction every year and I guarantee my business. I mean I stand behind my business,” Bouaziz said in a taped conversation with the FBI. “I don’t buy things that everyone else has. That’s why you don’t see them in other galleries.”

The affidavit does not say how many people were victims. Bouaziz will have a plea hearing on June 15. No trial date has been set. Bouaziz’s temporary attorney did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Saturday.

ABC News

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