FBI Raids Magnolia Mansion Hotel Owned by Former Boxer and Local Businessman Fouad Zeton

When the FBI conducted a three-hour raid of the Magnolia Mansion Hotel owned by Fouad Zeton, a Syrian-Greek businessman with strong political ties, the agents left with what appeared to be more than a dozen paintings wrapped in brown paper and several boxes of business records.

In an interview with WWL TV, Zeton was quick to point out that he was a legitimate businessman. “I am an honest man. I don’t have anything to hide. I don’t sell drugs,” he said.

Zeton has yet to state publicly where the seized paintings came from or even if they belonged to him. Were they hanging on the walls of the hotel or merely being stored there? It is also not known what part the art plays in the FBI’s investigation.

The New York Times reported in a front-page story on Sunday that the federal government is more frequently connecting the dots between art, drugs and money laundering. In a raid of a Philadelphia drug dealer’s home, Homeland Security investigators found marijuana, cash, fourteen valuable paintings on the walls and dozens more in a near-by storage unit. Those paintings- by such artists as Salvador Dali and Picasso- were valued in the millions.

“That jumped out at us,” federal agent Brian A. Mitchell told the New York Times. “The amount of artwork was not something you come across in every investigation.”

The drug dealer in question, Ronald Belciano, purchased the art from a legitimate gallery. Laundering ill-gotten gains through art purchases is relatively easy because the art world is known for its secrecy and lack of transparency.

Sales of paintings are often anonymous and therefore difficult to track. Sometimes buyers do not know exactly from whom they are purchasing a piece of art. Sellers might not know for whom the art is being procured.

Federal investigations exposing artwork as the preferred medium for money laundering purposes have become much more common.

Earlier this year Congress extended federal anti-money launder regulations to include antiquities dealers. The law was originally created for the banking industry. Federal agencies are also studying whether similar regulations should be placed on the wider art market.

Zeton came to America from war-torn Syria because he feared for his safety. A well-known professional boxer, Zeton won the World Boxing Council Championship during his 26-year career. He would display his championship belt at special events including Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s election night celebration. The two have remained close friends.

In addition to the Magnolia Mansion, Zeton is involved in several other businesses. Before Covid, he threw lavish fundraisers for politicians. Middle Eastern cuisine along with pizza was frequently served. Zeton was always a gracious host who thrived in the political spotlight.

When Zeton’s 31-year-old son Fouad Jr. was murdered in the French Quarter in 2018, hundreds of family members, friends and elected officials shared his grief. Even four-time world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield flew in for the services. Though almost four years have passed, Zeton is still deeply saddened by the loss of his son.

In a recent interview, Zeton said he has leased the Magnolia Mansion to Cydney (CiCi) Hedgpeth, a model, actress and singer with a New Orleans connection. She is also thought to be partners with Irvin Mayfield and Ronald Markham in a venture called Blackhouse Music.

Mayfield and fellow musicians including Markham have recently performed at the Mansion. Perhaps they intend to use the dollars earned from these performances to begin repaying their debt to the City’s library system.

No information is available on the status of the FBI’s investigation.

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