A Florida art dealer has pleaded guilty to selling counterfeit prints purported to have been made by famed pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein for tens of thousands of dollars each. Photo courtesy of FBI
Feb. 24 (UPI) -- A Florida art dealer has pleaded guilty to selling counterfeit prints purported to have been made by famed pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein for tens of thousands of dollars each.
Daniel Elie Bouaziz, the Palm Beach art dealer, pleaded guilty on Tuesday to a charge of money laundering, according to court documents filed in federal court.
The court agreed to drop 16 other counts as part of a plea deal.
Bouaziz's scheme was exposed after a special agent with the FBI filed a criminal complaint with the court last spring -- alleging that Bouaziz, a French citizen born in Algeria, was selling fake art from his Danieli Fine Art gallery.
Law enforcement agents raided Danieli Fine Art and a second gallery, Galerie Danieli, in December 2021 after witnesses reported that they had seen forged art purportedly by the renowned pop artist Keith Haring, who was known for his graffiti-inspired doodle art.
Another eagle-eyed witness told the FBI that they had seen a signature on a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat that was "1,000%" a fake and not made in the artist's hand while a third witness said that a piece by Lichtenstein was not the same dimensions as the authentic Lichtenstein artwork.
In December 2021, an undercover FBI agent purchased a purported Warhol work titled "Superman" that had a fake stamp on the back for $25,000 in digital currency, special agent Marc Gervasi wrote in the complaint.
"The 'Superman' you cannot find it. There is no other. And my advice, I gave you a fantastic price. You can only make money," Bouaziz told the undercover agent.
Gervasi said the undercover agent noticed that the stamp on the back had text indicating that it had come from the Carnegie Museum of Art and contacted the Andy Warhol Museum for more information on any partnerships the artist had with the CMOA.
"Bouaziz purchased low-cost reproductions from online auction sites that he then resold to unsuspecting victims, as originals, at drastically increased prices," Gervasi wrote in the complaint.
In one instance, Bouaziz bought a reproduction of a Warhol print for $100 and sold it to a victim for $85,000 -- which he "appraised" himself.
At times, Bouaziz added fake documents detailing the artwork's provenance, a term used in the art world to describe the tracking of such artifacts as they change hands over time, Gervasi added.
Several more stings were conducted by the FBI and each time Bouaziz provided fake provenance documents to undercover agents.
In its final sting, the FBI arranged to purchase Bouaziz's entire collection of work from artists including Basquiat, Haring, Georgia O'Keefe and Banksy.
The FBI noted that it had also been informed by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that Bouaziz was not permitted to own or work at an art gallery after traveling to the United States on a travel visa.
Despite that, Bouaziz applied for a loan from the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program during the COVID-19 pandemic in April 2021.