President Of Park Avenue Art Gallery Sentenced To 18 Months In Prison For Defrauding Art Dealers And Collectors Of Millions Of Dollars Of Artwork
Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that EZRA CHOWAIKI was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his role in an elaborate scheme to defraud art dealers and collectors of millions of dollars. CHOWAIKI fleeced his victims by entering into fraudulent agreements with dealers and collectors to buy or sell artwork through a private art gallery located on Park Avenue in New York, New York (the “Gallery”), and by using these dealers’ and collectors’ funds and artwork for unauthorized purposes, such as to repay other dealers to whom CHOWAIKI had outstanding debts. CHOWAIKI pled guilty on May 3, 2018, before United States District Judge Jed S. Rakoff, who imposed today’s sentence.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “Ezra Chowaiki ran a multimillion-dollar fraud on art dealers and collectors around the country. He sold clients’ artwork without authorization, and he took clients’ money for the purchase of artwork he never purchased. Chowaiki has now been sentenced to prison, and ordered to forfeit the spoils of his scheme and make restitution to his victims.”
According to the allegations contained in the Information and other documents filed in court, as well as statements made in public court proceedings:
Until November 2017, EZRA CHOWAIKI was the president and the minority owner of the Gallery. CHOWAIKI founded the Gallery in 2004 and thereafter used the Gallery to facilitate the purchase, sale, and consignment of works of fine art, as well as for hosting various art exhibitions featuring works of art and sculptures by well-known artists such as Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Edgar Degas, and others. CHOWAIKI lost control of the Gallery in November 2017 when the Gallery filed for bankruptcy and was taken over by a trustee to oversee its liquidation.
Between 2015 and 2017, through the Gallery, CHOWAIKI engaged in a scheme to deceive other dealers and collectors of fine artwork into sending him money or valuable artwork under the false pretenses that CHOWAIKI would engage in legitimate transactions such as the purchase, sale, or consignment of these and other artworks. In truth, however, CHOWAIKI did not, and often could not, conduct the transactions as promised, and instead kept funds and artwork for himself and the Gallery, or sold or consigned them to others both in and outside the United States, without authorization. Through these fraudulent transactions, CHOWAIKI fraudulently transferred millions of dollars’ worth of artwork.
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In addition to the prison term, CHOWAIKI, 49, of New York, New York, was sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit his interest in more than 20 works of art that had been fraudulently transferred, including works by Picasso, Degas, and Calder. Restitution amount was deferred to a later date.
Mr. Berman praised the outstanding work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. To date, the FBI has seized millions of dollars of artwork that was fraudulently transferred through CHOWAIKI’s scheme. Any person who believes he/she is a victim of this crime is encouraged to send an email to NYArtCrime@fbi.gov. Mr. Berman also thanked the Chapter 7 trustee and his attorneys at Togut, Segal & Segal LLP for their assistance.
The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel M. Tracer is in charge of the prosecution.