In December, there was quite a bit of commotion when FBI and IRS agents led a raid on the Palm Beach locations of Danieli Fine Art and Galerie Danieli. The agents covered the windows with brown paper and began removing things from the gallery in cardboard boxes. Some of these boxes were broad and thin, poor for holding documents, but great for storing paintings. While I hypothesized that Danieli had something in their possession that they shouldn’t have, this week’s reports confirmed those suspicions.
Daniel Elie Bouaziz, the owner of both galleries, was arrested on charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering in connection with selling forged works of art. He was released on bail for the hefty sum of $500,000, which is surprising because Bouaziz is a French citizen and therefore a flight risk. These forgeries were, according to the Associated Press, “cheap reproductions” of original works by modern and contemporary masters that Danieli was known for. Documents show that Bouaziz had dealt in reproductions that he claimed were originals by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Bansky. Bouaziz bought these fakes from online auction websites and sold them for insane markups claiming them as originals. In one instance, Bouaziz purchased a $100 replica of a Warhol print and sold it later for $85,000 as an original print. After six clients discovered that their coveted works were fakes, federal authorities opened an investigation into both galleries in 2021. During the investigation, Bouaziz offered undercover agents several deals on his reproductions. Most egregiously, he had a “Basquiat” on sale for $12 million that he bought online for €495 (or $530). But this goes beyond the works themselves. Bouaziz also allegedly forged documents relating to the works’ provenance and authenticity.
One of the hints that something may not have been entirely legitimate was the prices. While the Galerie Danieli sold these reproductions at very high markups, the price tags were at times not as high as they should have been if they were original works. One work purported to be an original Warhol, which would have been worth millions of dollars, was sold for a mere $25,000 at the Palm Beach location. Investigators claim that Bouaziz used the profits from the replicas to buy himself a Lamborghini, Rolex watches, and jewelry from Cartier.
Bouaziz has his plea hearing on June 15th. If found guilty, he faces up to twenty years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.