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Press Release

NoHo Man Admits Lying to FBI about His Role in Creating Fake Basquiat Paintings Seized Last Summer from Florida Museum

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Central District of California

LOS ANGELES – A one-time auctioneer has agreed to plead guilty to lying to FBI agents about the origins of paintings attributed to Jean-Michel Basquiat that were seized last year from the Orlando Museum of Art, admitting in court papers filed today that he and another man created the fake art and that he falsely attested to the paintings’ provenance.

Michael Barzman, 45, of North Hollywood, was charged today in federal court with making false statements to the FBI during an interview in August 2022. In a plea agreement also filed today, Barzman agreed to plead guilty to the felony offense and made a series of admissions about the fake paintings.

Barzman has agreed to surrender to federal authorities for a court appearance that has not yet been scheduled.

The plea agreement and a criminal information filed today outline how Barzman and a second man – identified in the court documents as “J.F.” – created the fake Basquiats in 2012 after hatching a plan to market the bogus artwork.

“J.F. spent a maximum of 30 minutes on each image and as little as five minutes on others, and then gave them to [Barzman] to sell on eBay,” according to the plea agreement. “[Barzman] and J.F. agreed to split the money that they made from selling the Fraudulent Paintings. J.F. and [Barzman] created approximately 20-30 artworks by using various art materials to create colorful images on cardboard.”

Barzman, who in 2012 ran an auction business focused on purchasing and reselling the contents from unpaid storage units, further admitted that he attempted to create a false provenance – or history of the ownership of a piece of art – for the purported Basquiats by claiming in a notarized document that the fraudulent paintings were found inside a storage unit that a well-known screenwriter had rented.

The bogus art was sold and made its way through the art market, forming the basis of an exhibition that opened in February 2022 at the Orlando Museum of Art. “Most of the featured works had, in fact, been created by [Barzman] and J.F.,” Barzman admitted in his plea agreement.

The FBI executed a search warrant at the Orlando Museum of Art in June 2022 and seized 25 pieces that Basquiat purportedly had created.

During an August 18, 2022 interview with special agents of the FBI, Barzman denied making the paintings himself.

“At the time of the interview, [Barzman] knew that he and J.F. had created the paintings and that his statements to the contrary were untruthful,” Barzman admitted in his plea agreement. “His statement that he did not make the paintings or have someone make them for him were material to the activities and decisions of the FBI and were capable of influencing the agency’s decisions and activities.”

In another FBI interview in October 2022, Barzman admitted “it was a lie” that the artwork had come from the storage locker, but he continued to deny making the fraudulent paintings – even after agents showed him the back of a painting on cardboard seized from the Orlando Museum of Art in which his name appears on a mailing label that had been painted over.

The crime of making false statements to a government agency carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

The FBI’s Art Crime Team is investigating this matter.

Assistant United States Attorneys Mark A. Williams, Chief of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section; Matthew W. O’Brien of the Environmental and Community Safety Crimes Section; and Alix L. McKenna of the General Crimes Section are prosecuting this case. Assistant United States Attorney Daniel Boyle of the Asset Forfeiture and Recovery Section is handling the forfeiture of seized artwork.


Thom Mrozek
Director of Media Relations
(213) 894-6947

Updated April 12, 2023

Intellectual Property
Press Release Number: 23-075