Operation Bogart

Marc Chagall reprint with forged signature
This Marc Chagall reprint with forged signature was seized during Operation Bogart and stamped as evidence.
This Marc Chagall reprint with forged signature was seized during Operation Bogart and stamped as evidence.
In 1991, the Postal Inspection Service, the Department of Justice, Interpol and the Federal Trade Commission cracked a billion dollar art forgery ring led by Leon Amiel. With his family, Amiel, a bookseller, printed counterfeit art works in a New Jersey warehouse. He forged artists’ signatures and sold these forgeries through the mail to unsuspecting buyers.

Led by Inspector Jack Ellis, the sting operation included the undercover purchase of 22 counterfeit works, and interviews with international art experts. The transaction and research led to a raid and the discovery of over 100,000 pieces of bogus art—or Bogart. Inspectors seized reproductions of work by Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, and Pablo Picasso.

Jack Ellis with fake prints seized during Operation Bogart.
Postal Inspector Jack Ellis with prints from the Operation Bogart case.
Postal Inspector Jack Ellis with prints from the
Operation Bogart case.

Postal Inspector Jack Ellis suspected that the 100,000 pieces of fake artwork seized in Operation Bogart were just the tip of the iceberg. He was right. More forgeries surfaced in 2008 when investigators nabbed Leon Amiel’s grandson and two accomplices in another sting operation.

Postal Inspector Jack Ellis discusses crime lab comparisons of an artist’s real signature and the clues paper can offer.

Postal Inspector Jack Ellis describes the undercover sting he and fellow inspectors used to crack the Amiel’s art fraud scheme.