A smooth-talking self-promoter who went from working for his father-in-law’s ice-cream company to launching a Park Avenue gallery that featured masterpieces by Picasso and Matisse is accused of stealing $10 million worth of art from unsuspecting clients, according to court papers and an ex-business partner.
Ezra Chowaiki opened Chowaiki & Co. gallery on Park Avenue at East 59th Street in 2004 with an investment from a retired Phillip Morris executive.
The Newtown, Pa., resident, now 49, billed himself as the “ultimate art-world insider,” with clients like Sotheby’s, Andy Warhol muse ‘‘Baby Jane’’ Holzer and Greek shipping heiress Aspasia Zaimis.
But before starting the gallery, he was a salesman for his in-laws’ ice-cream business and a failed screenwriter with “no formal education or expertise in art,” according to a 2009 lawsuit by a former employee.
When he couldn’t repay the loans, he allegedly had to hand over his clients’ works to lenders, Dangoor’s attorney, Anthony Dougherty, told The Post.
Gallery director Liza Lan stopped the alleged scam in September when she alerted Dangoor to “significant irregularities in the business’ financial records,” Dougherty said.
“My partner and I interviewed Mr. Chowaiki in late October. It was a four-hour interview. He poured everything out to us. It was like he needed to get this off his chest,” Dougherty said.
Dougherty alerted the NYPD’s Major Case Squad.
A police spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment.
“Ezra is in a world of hurt,” Dougherty said, citing four lawsuits that have been filed against the art dealer by Sotheby’s and other owners seeking millions in damages.
Attorney Judd Grossman, who filed three of the suits, says in court papers that Chowaiki “absconded” with his clients’ share of proceeds from the sale of their artwork and has refused to return pieces, including Salvador Dali’s “Femme Avec Papillon.”
Chowaiki’s attorney, Adam M. Felsenstein, declined to comment, and Chowaiki did not return calls for comment.
full text plus images at nypost.com/2017/11/23/art-dealer-accused-of-stealing-10m-in-clients-art-to-pay-debts/