A US district judge sentenced art dealer Ezra Chowaiki to 18 months in prison yesterday for an investment scam that defrauded prominent collectors, including Helly Nahmad and “Baby Jane” Holzer, of millions. He could have faced as much as two decades in prison, but prosecutors recommended a sentence between just four and five years.
Chowaiki pleaded guilty in May to wire fraud and admitted that he had sold stakes in artworks he didn’t actually own. He “fleeced his victims by entering into fraudulent agreements” to buy or sell art through his gallery on Park Avenue, according to a statement from district attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. “He sold clients’ artwork without authorization, and he took clients’ money for the purchase of artwork he never purchased.” Chowaiki often used the funds he received to repay other outstanding debts.