Counterfeit Warhol Paintings Result in White Collar Criminal Charges

February 27, 2023 Criminal Defense, Theft/Property Crimes

Selling a product that is not actually what it claims to be can result in serious criminal charges. In one recent South Florida case, an art distributor pleaded guilty to selling fake Andy Warhol paintings.

This article will provide information on the case, along with details on the relative white-collar crime offenses in Florida.

Case Details from South Florida Case

Daniel Elie Bouaziz, 69, sold counterfeit artwork to a customer in October 2021, which included pieces claimed to be from famous artist Andy Warhol. Bouaziz, the owner of Danieli Fine Art and Galerie in Palm Beach County, sold these “authentic originals” to a customer for prices between $75,000 and $240,000.

According to the report, the customer sent Bouaziz a downpayment of $200,000, with the other combined funds later transferred to other accounts. The art dealer also told the customer that the pieces had been signed by the artist. However, it turns out that the alleged Warhol paintings were fake.

After contacting officials over the fake paintings, Bouaziz was arrested in connection to the scheme of fake paintings. The defendant was originally facing over 16 charges in relation to fraud and embezzlement; however, Bouaziz has since pleaded guilty to a single count of money laundering in exchange for the prosecution to drop the other 16 charges.

Bouaziz is set for sentencing on May 30th, 2023. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.

What is Forgery?

The act of forgery can be defined as the illegal copy of a document, painting, etc. or the crime of making such illegal copies. In Florida, the crime of forgery takes place when an individual creates a fraudulent creation or altercation of some type of document or another instrument.

Forgery can include a wide range of documents, including:

  • Checks
  • Wills
  • Deeds
  • Contracts
  • Identification cards
  • Artwork

Florida Statute Section 831.01 states that any person who falsely makes, alters, forges, or counterfeits a public record, certificate, public register, notary public, or any other item listed under the statute with the intent to injure or defraud another person can be charged with a third-degree felony in Florida. The penalties for a third-degree felony include fines of up to $5,000 and up to five years in prison.

For the prosecution to convict a defendant of forgery, they must prove each of the following two elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant falsely made, altered, forged, or counterfeited a document, and
  • The defendant intended to injure or defraud another person or firm.

Section 831.02 of the Florida Statute explains that it is also considered a third-degree felony for any person to utter and publish as true a false, forged or altered record, deed, instrument, or other writing while knowing that such an item is false.

For the prosecution to convict a defendant of Uttering a forged instrument, they must prove each of the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant passed or offered to pass as true a document,
  • The defendant knew the document to be false, altered, forged, or counterfeited, and
  • The defendant intended to injure or defraud another person or firm.

Florida Money Laundering Act

In Florida, there have been laws put into place to criminalize the act of money laundering. Specifically, the Florida Money Laundering Act (FMLA) is codified under Florida Statute Section 896.101 and is designed to combat the crime of money laundering.

Money laundering is defined as a financial transaction scheme that aims to conceal the identity, source, and destination of illicitly-obtained money. Money laundering can be broken down into three stages:

  1. The illegal activity which garners the money places it in the hands of the person considered the “launderer.”
  2. The launderer then passes the money through a complex scheme of transactions to obscure who initially received the funds from the criminal act.
  3. The scheme then returns the money to the launderer in an indirect and obscure way.

Under the Florida Money Laundering Act, it is unlawful for any individual to partake in money laundering by:

  • Conducting a financial transaction with the proceeds of an unlawful activity with the intent to promote the unlawful activity, conceal or disguise the unlawful act, location, source, ownership, or control of the received proceeds;
  • Conducting a financial transaction which involves property that is known to be the proceeds of specified unlawful activity;
  • Conducting a financial transaction to avoid a reporting requirement under state or federal law; or
  • Transporting or transferring finances in or out of the U.S. with the intent to promote or further a specified unlawful activity or to conceal or disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, or control of the proceeds.

The penalties for money laundering in Florida will vary depending on several factors. These factors can include the value of the money laundered, the number of times the alleged offense was committed, and whether the accused person had any prior criminal convictions.

Under Florida Statute Section 896.101, the following are possible penalties for money laundering:

  • Financial transactions between $300 and $20,000 in a one-year period – Classified as a third-degree felony offense in Florida. Penalties include fines up to $5,000 and up to five years of imprisonment.
  • Financial transactions above $20,000 but less than $100,000 in a one-year period – Classified as a second-degree felony offense in Florida. Penalties include fines up to $10,000 and up to 15 years of imprisonment.
  • Financial transactions of $100,000 or more in a one-year period – Classified as a first-degree felony offense in Florida. Penalties include fines up to $10,000 and up to 30 years of imprisonment.

The Florida Money Laundering Act can apply to a wide range of financial transactions such as those involving wire transfers, credit unions, bank transfers, real estate, and more. The FMLA is a complex law with varying penalties. For that reason, if you or someone you know is facing criminal charges for money laundering or forgery in Florida, it is imperative that you reach out to a white-collar criminal defense attorney in your area.

Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida

Although white-collar crimes are relatively known as being non-violent crimes, there are still harsh consequences for any person convicted of one in Florida. In addition to paying expensive fines, you can also face extensive prison sentences.

If you have been arrested for a white-collar offense, your first step should be seeking legal guidance. An experienced attorney will be able to review the details of your case and will look to get your charges dropped or dismissed completely.

Don Pumphrey and his team specialize in a wide variety of criminal offenses, including white-collar crimes. If you or a loved one are accused of forgery, money laundering, or other similar offenses, contact our law office today. Pumphrey Law Firm will work tirelessly to win your case and earn your freedom. Call us today at (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.

Written by Karissa Key

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