Showing posts with label FBI. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FBI. Show all posts

August 7, 2015

Ames Stradivarius owned by Roman Totenberg Recovered 35 years after theft


by Judge Arthur Tompkins

The New York Times reported August 6 (http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/07/arts/music/roman-totenbergs-stolen-stradivarius-is-found-after-35-years.html) that a Stradivarius violin stolen back in 1980 was recovered in June this year, and has been returned to the family of the original owner.

The Ames Stradivarius recovered by the F.B.I. in June.
(Credit Federal Bureau of Investigation, via Associated Press)


The ‘Ames Stradivarius’ was created by the legendary Italian violin-maker Antonio  Stradivarius in 1734. By 1980 it had been owned and played by Roman Totenberg, a well-known violin player and teacher, and director of the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass., for nearly 40 years.  At the time of the theft, which happened during a reception following a concert, the violin was said to be valued at $250,000.

Saratoga Herald-Tribune, Friday May 16, 1980, page 5-A.
Michael Cooper reported in The NYT that the violin re-appeared earlier this year after an unnamed woman, who recounted that she had inherited the violin from her late ex-husband, sought advice from an appraiser. The appraiser immediately recognised both that it was a genuine Stradivarius, and that it was the stolen Ames Stradivarius.  The appraiser contacted the FBI’s Art Theft team, who immediately verified the identity of the instrument and took possession of it.

As noted in The NYT, it seems that the now deceased ex-husband was suspected of the theft by Mr Totenberg (who died in 2012) right from the start:
Ms. Totenberg [Roman Totenberg’s daughter] said that the woman had inherited the violin from the man Ms. Totenberg’s father had suspected all along of stealing the instrument. The man had been seen in the vicinity of his office at Longy near the time of the theft, and a woman once visited Mr. Totenberg and told him that she believed that the man had stolen his violin. But to the family’s frustration, investigators at the time apparently did not believe that the tip was sufficient for them to obtain a search warrant.
The family had received an insurance pay-out at the time of the theft. That has now been repaid, and the instrument will be restored and sold:
“[The family are] going to make sure that it’s in the hands of another great artist who will play it in concert halls all over the world,” she said. “All of us feel very strongly that the voice has been stilled for too long.”

March 29, 2015

Indystar Reports Death of Don Miller, 91-year-old man whose private collection of artifacts the FBI seized last year

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Jill Disis reported March 26 for Gannet's Indystar that Indiana resident and electrical engineer Don Miller died at the age of 91, one year after the FBI seized his collection of antiquities and artifacts:
News reports in the aftermath of the government seizure were awash with tales from those who had seen his collection, which reportedly included Aztec figurines, Ming Dynasty jade and an Egyptian sarcophagus. Miller never faced any charges related to his collection. No lawsuits were filed against him in the year since the seizure. In his final months, townsfolk told The Indianapolis Star he had disappeared from public life. And even after his death, progress of the federal investigation remains shrouded in mystery. FBI Special Agent Drew Northern declined to comment about the case Tuesday night. Officials from the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis anthropology department, which is assisting the FBI in identifying and preserving the artifacts, also would not comment. But a legal expert told The Star it could take years, if not decades, before experts can sort out the legalities of the thousands of objects seized by the government.
Here's a link to the ARCA Blog's earlier post on the FBI seizure (along with a perspective by retired FBI Agent Virginia Curry and anthropologist Kathleen Whitaker).

February 14, 2015

Raul Espinoza sentenced to more than four years in state prison for receiving art stolen from Encino home in 2008

Raul Espinoza
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Brian Melley reported in the Associated Press Feb. 13 ("Man who tried to sell stolen Encino art gets 4 years in state prison") that Raul Espinoza was 'sentenced Friday to more than four years in state prison' when he 'pleaded no contest to one count of receiving property stolen in 2008 from the Encino home of Susan and Anton Roland:
He [Espinoza] was asking $700,000 for works he said were worth $5 million, though the paintings have since been valued for as much as $23 million, said Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for the Los Angeles district attorney.
Melley/AP wrote that Espinoza's restitution hearing is scheduled for March 25.

(CNN also identified the owners of the art collection here).

Veronica Rocha for The Los Angeles Times reported that Espinoza's sentence was "four years and four months".

In May 2012, Mash Leo for The Jewish Daily reported that Susan and Anton Roland donated 15 works of art (including a Francis Bacon triptych worth $75 million) to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art:
This collection was accumulated over a lifetime by Susan Roland and her husband, the late Anton Roland. A teary-eyed George Roland paid tribute to his parents’ passion for art collecting: “Father was born in Carpathia [Czechoslovakia]. Mother was born in Hungary. They married in Budapest. In 1946 they moved to Paris and dreamt of owning paintings…. In 1949 they bought a Chagall in Israel [and] kept on buying paintings all over Europe. When [Dad] bought the Francis Bacon painting, his wife remarked that it was immoral to pay so much money [for it]. He pacified her by saying that it would eventually go to the Tel Aviv Museum…. It was their greatest wish to have a collection and to donate it after our passing, to share it with the Israeli people.’”

A catalogue on the donation from the Rolands to the Israeli art gallery can be purchased on Amazon.

An online article in "15 Minutes Magazine" quoted George Roland on his parents:
"My parents were opposites," George said. His mother came from Hungary and father from the Carpathians. Dad studied in a yeshiva in Prague when the war broke out.
He found his future wife on the street wearing a Jewish star. "Why are you wearing that?"
"They told me to."
"Just because they told you to do it doesn’t mean you do it."

He ripped the star off her coat and took her to the underground where he was working as a forger for the resistance against the Nazis. They stayed together ever since.
Related ARCA blog posts:




December 19, 2014

Stolen Art Recovered: FBI and LAPD undercover operation recovers 3/4 of art stolen from Encino residence in 2008

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Los Angeles, California -- Journalist Matt Hamilton reported December 17 in the Los Angeles Times ("Detectives crack huge L.A. heist; 9 paintings recovered") that two months ago an undercover operation between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) recovered three-quarters of the paintings stolen six years ago from an Encino residence.

Hamilton's article included a copy of the search warrant Detective Don Hrycyk filed on Dec. 2 to continue the investigation. Hrycyk wrote of the original crime and the recovery:
On August 24, 2008, I received a crime report (DR #08-1025695) of a hot prowl residential burglary during which $10 million in fine art was stolen from the home of XXX and XXX (see Attachment B) who were both elderly invalids. The art was taken during the day while they were in their bedrooms during a brief window of opportunity lasting less than an hour during which no caregivers or employees were in the house. Twelve paintings were taken including works by artists such as Marc Chagall, Diego Rivera, Chaim Soutine and others. 
The art remained missing for six years. Then on 9/2/14, I became aware that a man named "Darko" in Europe was trying to find a buyer for the nine stolen paintings listed in the XXX crime alert (see Attachment C). He indicated that he was merely a middleman for an unknown person in possession of the art in California. 
I contacted Special Agent Elizabeth Rivas who works the FBI's Art Crime Team in Los Angeles. An undercover operation was an implemented to recover the stolen art. FBI undercover agents posing as potential buyers set up a meeting at a hotel in West Los Angeles for the purpose of buying the nine stolen paintings valued at over $10 million for $700,000 in cash. 
On 10/23/14, a man identified as Raul Espinoza (aka: Jorge Lara) tried to sell the paintings to the undercover agents and was subsequently arrested and the nine artworks recovered. He is being prosecuted under state charges of 496(a) PC (Receiving Stolen Property) with various special allegations. During the undercover operation, I heard Espinoza offering to sell three additional artworks. He described the paintings, one of which matches the description of an Endre Szasz painting owned by the victims that is still missing. 
Special Agent Rivas told me she interviewed Darko who told her he spoke to the person in possession of the stolen art at least fifty times by cellphone and received cellphone photos of the stolen art in the same manner. During the undercover buy with FBI agents, I viewed and heard the operation taking place through the use of hidden camera in the hotel room and observed Espinoza using his cellphone to call confederates to signal them during the operation. In addition, I believe the original burglary could not have been accomplished without the assistance of inside help from one of the employees who worked for the victims at the time of the crime and I believe this person is known to Espinoza. 
Espinoza's cellphone was seized and booked evidence at the time of his arrest. I request authorization to have his cellphone undergo forensic examination to determine if it contains phone numbers, contacts, photos, emails, text messages, and other information showing his involvement in the crime of receiving stolen property as well as his contacts with Darko and other accomplices in selling, transporting, or storing the art. I believed this information may result in the recovery of three additional paintings in the possession of Espinoza that were stolen from the victims during the burglary in 2008 and may reveal the identity of persons involved in the burglary in 2008 and may reveal the identity of persons involved in the original burglary in 2008.
Here's a link to an interview with Detective Hrycyk about the LAPD Art Theft Detail.

May 22, 2014

Fox 25 News (MyFoxBoston.com): "FBI talks exclusively to Bob Ward about Stolen Art" [The 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Unsolved Heist]; Compare it to what Ulrich Boser reported in his book in 2009

"FBI has confirmed sighting of Gardner artwork after heist" reports Bob Ward in a television segment on May 21 for Fox 25 News (MyBoston.com).
In his first TV interview, FBI Special Agent Geoff Kelly, the Bureau's leading investigator on the Gardner Case, tells FOX 25's Bob Ward the trail for the missing Gardner artwork has not grown cold. Kelly said the Bureau has confirmed sightings, from sources the Bureau deems credible, of the Gardner artwork in the years after it was stolen. He also identified three persons of interest in the Gardner case, all with ties to organized crime: Carmello Merlino, Robert Guarente, and Robert Gentile. Kelly said in the late 1990's, two FBI informants told the Bureau that Merlino was preparing to return Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee, in an effort to collect the reward. However, Merlino and his crew were soon arrested in an aborted armored car heist and the painting was never returned. Kelly believes Guarente somehow passed control of the stolen Gardner artwork to Gentile, a Manchester, Conn. man. Kelly believes Gentile has ties to organized crime in Philadelphia, PA and that Gentile helped bring some or all of the stolen Gardner artwork to Philadelphia where it was last seen in 2000, offered for sale. In 2012 Gentile's home and property in Manchester, Conn. were extensively searched but no sign of the stolen Gardner artwork was located. However, Kelly said authorities recovered police paraphernalia, including "clothing, articles of clothing with police and FBI insignias on it, handcuffs, a scanner, two way radios, and Tasers" and these are not common items. Gentile, through his lawyer, denied having any connection to the Gardner art heist or with moving the artwork after the fact. Both Merlino and Guarente are now dead. If you have any information about the Gardner Museum artwork, call the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI. There is a $5 million reward in this case. 
Read more (and see the video which includes an appearance by Anthony Amore, security director of the Gardner museum): http://www.myfoxboston.com/story/25583520/fbi-has-confirmed-sightings-of-gardner-artwork-after-heist#ixzz32SaaZt9e

In Ulrich Boser's book, The Gardner Heist: The True Store of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft (HarperCollins, 2009) the index included 11 references to Carmello Merlino who died in prison in 2005. Merlino is described as the "gangland captain" of David Turner who was picked up by the FBI on Feb. 7, 1999 and questioned about the Gardner heist (page 100):
"The FBI told me that they had information from several sources that I was an actual participant in the robbery," Turner recalled. "What was said was 'Give us the paintings right now, and you can go home."
Boser described Merlino as a 'South Boston mobster' (p. 101) whose:
'body shop grew into an underworld flea market for looted goods. "If there was something you wanted stolen, that was the place. You could go there and just put in an order, and they would have crews running all sorts of places, South Shore Malls, downtown, everywhere," retired state police officer Eddie Whelan told me.
[Interesting sidebar -- the art stolen from Jeffrey Gundlach was recovered by police in an automobile stereo shop in Pasadena, CA in 2012.]

Boser wrote on pages 105-107 that:
Merlino was picked up on a drug charge in 1992, and through an intermediary, he offered to return the paintings for a reduced prison sentence. He told prosecutors that the masterpieces were "very big and international," that the deal has to be kept quiet or he would be killed. But Merlino never offered any hard evidence of the lost art ... [but] it was clear that Merlino did not have direct access to the art, that he was attempting to secure the masterpieces from someone else.
Boser wrote on page 201:
Perhaps mob associate Robert Guarente was the mastermind? He was a friend of Turner's, a frequent visitor to Merlino's body shop, and had connections to Myles Connor. But Guarente died in 2004 without any sign of the paintings. The FBI confidential informant reports also imply that Turner himself had the loot. That seems impossible. Turner would have almost certainly given up the canvases to get out of his thirty-eight year prison sentence. 

April 12, 2014

Saturday, April 12, 2014 - ,, No comments

FBI Announces Return of 75 paintings by Hanna “Kali” Weynerowska to Poland

"Boy on Donkey" (Courtesy of FBI)
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

The FBI office in San Francisco located paintings by a Polish painter in a storage facility and have been turned over to a Polish museum in Switzerland, the FBI announced in a press release.
Seventy-Five Paintings by Hanna “Kali” Weynerowska Considered Polish Cultural Artifacts, National Treasures ... Hanna Weynerowska, also known as “Kali” in her association with the Polish Underground Resistance during World War II, was a career artist. Following the war, she returned to painting and traveled the world until she immigrated to San Francisco. In 1998, Weynerowska died, but her paintings were being pursued by a museum custodian, but the transfer never occurred. Recently, the paintings were located in a storage facility under safe keeping by a member of Weynerowska’s family. The paintings will be housed and displayed at The Polish Museum in Rapperswil, Switzerland. Notably, “Boy on Donkey,” “Boy with Rooster,” “Pacheco Pass,” “Rafaelito,” “The Cobbler,” and “Walking a Bird” were among the 75 paintings returned.... This investigation was conducted by the FBI San Francisco Field Office and FBI Legal Attaché Office in Warsaw.
Here's the report by Jose Rosato Jr. for NBC Bay Area; he begins with:
By all accounts, Hanna “Kali” Weynerowska led a colorful life – the sort of colorful life she might depict in one of her many paintings. As an up-and-coming painter in her native Poland, she was building something of a name for herself before World War II broke out. Then she was captured by Nazis, escaped from a concentration camp, became a freedom fighter, and eventually made her way to San Francisco, where she continued to paint.

December 5, 2013

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Isabella Stewart Gardner Theft: Boston's WGBH News' Emily Rooney reports Anne Hawley's first public comments about threats after the theft and interviews FBI Investigator Geoff Kelley about why suspect(s) not named and speculates about the paintings

Boston's WGBH's Emily Rooney reported Dec. 3 that the FBI has issued "wanted posters" for the 13 missing artworks stolen in 1990:
The posters don't sport the usual most-wanted suspects. instead, they display the missing artwork in an effort to get someone to come forward with what they know about the most significant art heist in history.
In addition, Ms. Rooney reported that "Gardner Museum director Anne Hawley is opening up about the loss":
"It was such a painful and horrible moment in the museum's life," Hawley said. Until now, Hawley has said little about the theft and what happened in the immediate aftermath. "We also are being threatened from the outside by criminals who want attention from the FBI, and so they were threatening us, and threatening putting bombs in the museum," she said. "We were evacuating museum, the staff members were under threat, no one really knew what kind of a conundrum we were in."
[...]

WGBH News' Emily Rooney interviewed Jeff Kelley, a special agent in the FBI's Boston field office, and a member of the art crime unit.

Emily Rooney: You have been in this for at least ten years.
Jeff Kelley: It is actually 11 years now I have been the investigator on this case.

Rooney: You essentially know who did it.

Kelley: Yes.

Rooney: Why can't you say?

Kelley: We have to temper what we put out there in the public, and we certainly want to get the assistance of the public and we feel it is important to kind of lay our cards out on the table and say we know who did it, and we know who is involved, but we need your help. 
[...]
Rooney: The former Boston Herald reporter Tom Mashburger has a great tale of being, essentially, blindfolded and taken to a place where somebody unrolled something and he got some chips. Is there any possibility what he saw is one of the real pieces?

Kelley: I know Tom and he has the utmost integrity. But from what I have learned about the art itself, I don't think that what he saw was the actual painting. He described it as being unrolled, kind of unfurled, but from speaking to the experts at the museum and at other museums, the paintings are so thick that they would really be almost impossible to roll up.

Rooney: Do you think that they are still in existence and do you think together — because with 13 objects, some of them are odd objects, they weren't all paintings — to think that they're together?

Kelley: I don't know if they are still together. I think they are all in existence.
Note: The correct name of the reporter "Tom Mashburger" is Tom Mashberg.
Here's a link to the YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WwnQs1BvvlU.

July 13, 2013

America's Book of Secrets features segment on the Isabella Stewart Gardner 1990 Theft

Here's the show, America's Book of Secrets on the History Channel, which interviewed ARCA trustee Erik Nemeth (PH.D., Independent Researcher) for an episode aired in June, Lost Treasures.  At around minute 29, the show focuses on the 1990 theft of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the segment "Bare Walls". Interviews include FBI Special Agent Geoffrey J. Kelly; Robert K. Wittman, former FBI Special Agent; Nemeth; Catherine Williamson, PH.D., Director of Fine Books and Manuscripts, Bonhams; and Chris Isleib, Director of Communications, National Archives.

July 12, 2013

FBI Looking for Owners of Recovered Art (Books and Maps)

The FBI has posted images of 57 rare books and maps in hopes of finding the owners:
After a well-known dealer of rare maps was caught stealing from a Yale University library in 2006, a subsequent FBI investigation revealed that the man had stolen antique maps and other valuable items from institutions around the world. Most of the pilfered material was eventually returned to its rightful owners—but not all of it. 
We are still in possession of 57 rare maps and books—some dating to the 17th century—and we would like to return them. To that end, we are posting pictures and information about the items in the accompanying photo gallery in the hopes that the individuals or institutions who own them will come forward to claim them. 
“These items have been legally forfeited to the U.S. government,” said Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, who manages the FBI’s Art Theft Program. “Technically, they belong to the Bureau now, but we don’t want to keep them. Even though we have tried to find the rightful owners over the years, we are making another attempt.” 
After Edward Forbes Smiley, III was arrested for the Yale library theft, he admitted stealing and selling nearly 100 rare maps from international collections over a period of seven years. With Smiley’s cooperation, we tracked down most of the dealers and collectors who purchased the approximately $3 million worth of stolen material. But returning the maps to their homes proved to be a daunting task. 
In many cases, the maps were cut from books with a razor and trimmed so they didn’t look like they came from books. Some of the maps had different titles—many in Latin—and could have come from several known copies of the same book. To further complicate matters, many libraries weren’t even aware they were missing items until we contacted them. 
“These maps aren’t vehicles with identification numbers stamped on them,” Special Agent Stephen J. Kelleher, who led the 2006 investigation, said at the time. Special Agent Lisa MacNamara, who is working the case now from our New Haven, Connecticut Division, added, “Our hope is that by reaching out to the public in this way, we can get these historical items back to where they belong.” 
The items still in our possession include rare maps such as an 18th century depiction of the United States, a 1683 street plan of Philadelphia, and several antique books. 
If you believe that one of the maps or books shown in the gallery was stolen from your collection, please contact Special Agent MacNamara at (203) 503-5268, or send an e-mail to artwork@ic.fbi.gov. To claim any of the items, you will need to provide evidence of ownership and positively identify the item in question. That might include—but is not limited to—giving a description of special markings or stamps, wear patterns, specific damage, or other detailed information.

April 13, 2013

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A True Goya Painting Theft: History of Stolen Painting from the Toledo Museum of Art in 2006

Here's an example of a true theft of a painting by Francisco Goya on November 7, 2006, which occurred when the artwork was being moved from one museum to another.

David Johnston for The New York Times reported on November 17 ("Goya Theft is Attributed to Inside Knowledge"):

Federal investigators have concluded that thieves armed with detailed shipping information were behind the removal of a Goya painting from a truck en route to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum from Ohio last week, law enforcement officials said Friday. 
The 1778 painting, “Children With a Cart,” was packed inside several nested crates aboard a locked unmarked truck used by a professional art transporter. The crated painting was removed from an outer shipping container in the truck while it was parked at a Howard Johnson Inn near Bartonsville, Pa. 
The two drivers checked into the hotel around 11 p.m. on Nov. 7, according to the motel manager, Faizal Bhimani. He said the white midsize truck was left in an unlighted parking lot adjacent to the hotel, out of sight of the hotel’s rooms and the main office. 
When the drivers returned to the truck at about 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 8, the locks had been broken and the painting, insured for $1 million, was gone, law enforcement officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Here's a link to the press release from the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio offering a $50,000 reward for the return of the Goya painting.

 Here's the link to the FBI's press release on November 20, 2006 upon recovery of Goya's "Children with Cart" within three weeks of the theft.

Here's a link to the NPR story of the FBI Art Crime Team which reports that the Goya painting stolen from the Toledo museum was recovered within 10 days.

Here's a link to an article in The Wall Street Journal online in 2011 with a motivation for the theft:

Robert K. Wittman, former head of the FBI's Art Crime team and now a security consultant in Philadelphia, notes that history's most infamous art thefts, including the 1990 Isabella Steward Gardner Museum heist in Boston, targeted works hanging on walls, not in transit. But he adds that art on the move is at its most vulnerable. 
Mr. Wittman helped recover a 1778 Goya masterpiece stolen off a truck in Pennsylvania in 2006 en route from the Toledo Museum of Art in Ohio to the Guggenheim in New York. In that case, its two drivers made the dumb decision to check into a motel for a nap. They returned to find their parked truck busted open and the unmarked Goya crate gone. The thief didn't know what he had, and said he wanted to get rid of it. He didn't destroy the painting because "it kind of grew on me." He had a lawyer contact authorities saying he had found it in his basement—there was a $50,000 reward—but wound up pleading guilty and being sentenced to five years in prison.
Goya's 1778 "Children with Cart" is still on display at the Toledo Museum of Art.


March 25, 2013

The Gardner Heist: Journalist Tom Mashberg Weighs In

The FBI's press conference on the 23rd anniversary of the Gardner theft "was a hit, generating flashing Internet bulletins and global media coverage," wrote Tom Mashberg March 25 in "The Gardner Art Heist: The Thieves Who Couldn't Steal Straight" for Cognoscenti, Boston's NPR Radio Station.

Mashberg has covered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum case for 16 years. Of the FBI's press conference on March 18, 2013, Mashberg writes:
Since crowd-sourcing was the goal, the FBI should be pleased. But we didn't really learn anything new beyond the assertion that some of the stolen paintings made their way to Philadelphia a decade ago. I was invited to speak with investigators alone for a few minutes after the news conference. They are dedicated men to be sure, and they were candid: they told me that for now the train has "gone cold."
 It was attention grabbing to hear them say they know the identities of the thieves. (Keeping the names secret is wise from an investigative standpoint -- imagine the media swarm.) But any careful follower of the case can boil the list of likely robbers down to three men -- all Boston-area felons. My belief is that two of the thieves are dead, and the third is in prison. The dead men will tell no tales, but there is still a chance to squeeze the guy behind bars.
In this article, Mashberg proposes that the bank robber Robert F. Guarante (who died in 2004) took the art from the two original thieves who didn't know what to do with it.
A lot of these characters, chief among them a gangster named Carmello Merlino, also deceased, can be heard yapping on wiretaps about their plans to return the art for the $5 million reward money -- if only they could find it. It's the gang that couldn't steal straight.
Mashberg also proposes that it was Robert A. Donati (dead) who cased the Gardner Museum in the 1980s with art thief Myles J. Connor (in prison on the night of the Gardner Heist) who stole the fluted Chinese bronze beaker that night as a gift for Connor.

Mashberg, who co-write "Stealing Rembrandts" (2011) with Anthony M. Amore, states that "the crime was always a local job."




March 21, 2013

The Gardner Heist: Author Ulrich Boser Writing in The New York Times on "Learning from the Gardner Art Theft"

Ulrich Boser, author of The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Unsolved Art Theft (HarperCollins Publishers, 2008), in The New York Times March 21 in "Learning from the Gardner Theft", comments on the long investigation into the paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990:
Twenty-three years may seem like an inordinate amount of time to solve a burglary, but the Gardner case has actually come a long way from the days when it sometimes seemed to sit on the F.B.I.’s investigative back burner — and the robbery has done a lot to change the way that museums protect their art.
Mr. Boser offers his observations in writing about the case:
Over the years, it hasn’t seemed as if federal investigators have always made the case a top priority. When I first started reporting on the theft, for instance, the museum’s director, Anne Hawley, suggested that she had not always been satisfied with the bureau’s commitment to the case. Ms. Hawley, the director since 1989, said that the first agent assigned to the case seemed very green. “Why didn’t the F.B.I. have the capacity to assign a senior-level person?” she asked me in 2007. “Why was it not considered something that needed immediate and high-level attention?”
Mr. Boser also comments on the unnamed thieves the FBI has identified in its investigation:
As for the men who robbed the museum, there’s been some good evidence over the years regarding their identities. In my book on the theft, I pointed the finger at the Boston mobster David Turner. As part of my reporting, I examined F.B.I. files that indicated that Mr. Turner was an early suspect, and he bears a strong resemblance to the composite drawing made of one of the thieves. In a letter to me, Mr. Turner denied any role in the theft, but he also told me that if I were to put his picture on my book’s cover, I would sell more copies. 

More important, there are signs that the paintings may hang on the walls of the museum again. At the news conference on Monday, the F.B.I. announced that in the years after the theft, someone took the stolen Gardner art to Connecticut and Philadelphia and offered it up for sale. This suggests that the canvases might still be in good condition.

March 20, 2013

ISGM Security Director Anthony Amore Calls Hunt for Stolen Gardner Paintings "an exercise in finding 13 needles in a haystack by making the haystack smaller"

FBI: An empty frame in the Dutch Room of the ISGM
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

The FBI and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum have offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the return of the paintings.

The day after the FBI announced that they have identified the thieves responsible for the 1990 art heist, ARCA Trustee Anthony Amore, Director of Security for the Gardner Museum, told the ARCA Blog:
"As I have said many times in the past, this investigation is an excuse in finding 13 needles in a haystack by making the haystack smaller. The information we provided at the press conference shows that we continue this work, and that the haystack is smaller than ever."
The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the U. S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts continue to work on this investigation with the FBI.

You may find more information here on the FBI's website.

And here's a link to an article in Harvard Magazine featuring Anthony Amore.

March 19, 2013

Jennifer Levitz for The Wall Street Journal: FBI Will Begin Media Campaign in Philadelphia to flush out art stolen from Gardner Museum in 1990

In the article "Clearer Picture of Art Heist", Wall Street Journal's Jennifer Levitz outlined the media blitz FBI will understake to flush out art stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990:

Although it doesn't know the current whereabouts of the art, the FBI believes it might still be in the Philadelphia area. So the agency will launch a publicity campaign, soliciting tips using social media and, within a few weeks, putting up digital roadside billboards in and around Philadelphia, where it believes someone may have glimpsed—or even bought—the art without knowing of the tainted origin. The museum is offering a $5 million reward for a tip leading to the recovery. The theft represents the largest property crime in U.S. history, according to the FBI.

March 18, 2013

FBI Announces New Information Regarding the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Theft

FBI composite of paintings stolen from ISGM in 1990
On the 23rd anniversary of the largest art theft, an FBI press release announced: "FBI Provides New Information Regarding the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Theft".

The press release is issued by the FBI Boston office in cooperation with with Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, released new information about one of the largest property crimes in U.S. history—the art theft:
The FBI believes it has determined where the stolen art was transported in the years after the theft and that it knows the identity of the thieves, Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, revealed for the first time in the 23-year investigation. “The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence that in the years after the theft, the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region, and some of the art was taken to Philadelphia, where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft.” DesLauriers added, “With that same confidence, we have identified the thieves, who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the Mid-Atlantic states and New England.” After the attempted sale, which took place approximately a decade ago, the FBI’s knowledge of the art’s whereabouts is limited. 
Information is being sought from those who possess or know the whereabouts of the 13 stolen works of art—including rare paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer—by publicizing new details about the case and continuing to highlight the $5 million reward for the return of the art. Although the FBI does not know where the art is currently located, the FBI is continuing its search, both in and beyond the Connecticut and Philadelphia areas. “With this announcement, we want to widen the ‘aperture of awareness’ of this crime to the reach the American public and others around the world,” said DesLauriers. 
Anthony Amore, the museum’s chief of security, noted that the reward is for “information that leads directly to the recovery of all of our items in good condition.” He further explained, “You don’t have to hand us the paintings to be eligible for the reward. We hope that through this media campaign, people will see how earnest we are in our attempts to pay this reward and make our institution whole. We simply want to recover our paintings and move forward. Today marks 23 years since the robbery. It’s time for these paintings to come home.” 
“The investigation into the Gardner Museum theft has been an active and aggressive effort, with law enforcement following leads and tracking down potential sources of information around the globe. Over the past three years, I have visited the museum several times, and each time I entered the Dutch Room and saw the empty frames, I was reminded of the enormous impact of this theft. I do remain optimistic that one day soon the paintings will be returned to their rightful place in the Fenway, as Mrs. Gardner intended,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “As we have said in the past, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will consider the possibility of immunity from criminal prosecution for information that leads to the return of the paintings based on the set of facts and circumstances brought to our attention. Our primary goal is, and always has been, to have the paintings returned.” 
To recover stolen items and prosecute art and cultural property crime, the FBI has a specialized Art Crime Team of 14 special agents supported by special trial attorneys. The team investigates theft, fraud, looting, and trafficking across state and international lines, with estimated losses running as high as $6 billion annually. The FBI also runs the National Stolen Art File, a computerized index of stolen art and cultural properties that is used as a reference by law enforcement agencies worldwide. 
The FBI stressed that anyone with information about the artwork may contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or the museum directly or through a third party, said Special Agent Geoffrey Kelly, who is the lead investigator in the case and a member of the Art Crime Team. “In the past, people who realize they are in possession of stolen art have returned the art in a variety of ways, including through third parties, attorneys, and anonymously leaving items in churches or at police stations.” Tips may also be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov. 
The publicity campaign announced today includes a dedicated FBI webpage on the Gardner Museum theft, video postings on FBI social media sites, publicity on digital billboards in Philadelphia region, and a podcast. To view and listen to these items, visit the FBI’s new webpage about the theft: www.FBI.gov/gardner.



February 7, 2013

Portrait of a Museum Theft Case: The 2007 Robbery of the Museum of Fine Arts in Nice

Jan Brueghel the Elder's
 "Allegorie de la terre"
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Last night after looking up stolen snuffboxes on INTERPOL's Works of Art database, I curiously looked up Recovered Items and found a pair of paintings by Brueghel, Allegorie de la terre and Allegorie de l'eau, recovered in Marseille in June 2008. INTERPOL provides thumbnail images of the paintings; descriptions (in this case, for example, exterior scene with figures and animals, not religious); measurements; and the date of recovery. The rest of the information can be found from articles published online:


Brueghel's "Allegorie de l'eau"
On August 5, 2007, at about 1 o'clock on a Sunday afternoon, five masked thieves with weapons entered the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Nice and left five minutes later with the two paintings by Jan Brueghel the Elder and two Impressionist works: Claude Monet’s 1897 “Cliffs Near Dieppe” and Alfred Sisley’s 1890 “Lane of Poplars at Moret-sur-Loing” ("Four Masterpieces Stolen from French Museum", The New York Times, August 7, 2007).

Alfred Sisley's "Lane of Poplars at Moret"
Ten months later, French police recovered the four paintings in Marseilles and detained more than 10 people in Nice and Marseilles ("French police recover stolen art by Monet, Brueghel", Reuters, June 4, 2008).  The sting operation had involved undercover FBI Agent Robert Wittman posing as an American art dealer ready to purchase the stolen art for more than $4 million in cash ("From the Art World to the Underworld", Wall Street Journal, August 22, 2008).  In Wittman's memoir Priceless (Crown Publishers, New York, 2010), the then senior investigator of the FBI's Art Crime Team says that as of March 2007 he had "spent nine painstaking months undercover" as "some sort of shady American art dealer" trying to recover the paintings stolen in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

In a Factual Proffer (United States v. Bernard Jean Ternus), the defendant, in an effort to cut a deal with prosecutors and avoid a trial, admits that from August 2007 to June 2008 he and his "co-conspirators" "knowing that the Nice paintings had been stolen" "brokered the sale" of the four works to undercover FBI and French National Police agents (the legal statement details those negotiations).  When the Nice paintings were recovered in Marseilles, Ternus was arrested in Florida. On July 8, Ternus pleaded guilty to "conspiring to transport in interstate and foreign commerce four stolen paintings knowing that they were stolen":
According to plea documents, on Jan. 19, 2008, Ternus met in Barcelona with undercover FBI agents and with an unindicted co-conspirator. At the meeting, Ternus and his unindicted co-conspirator negotiated a two-part transaction with the undercover FBI agents. They would sell all four stolen paintings to the undercover agents for a total of 3 million Euros. Two of the paintings would be transferred in exchange for 1.5 million Euros, and the remaining two paintings would be transferred on a separate date for 1.5 million Euros. According to information entered at court, the defendant and his unindicted co-conspirator structured the two-part transaction to retain leverage with law enforcement in the event anyone was arrested upon the sale of the first two paintings. If this occurred, they intended to use the remaining two paintings to bargain for the release of anyone who was arrested. (Department of Justice)
Ternus had a criminal history:
In addition to the conspiracy charge, Ternus also pleaded guilty to a visa fraud charge before U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia A. Altonaga in Miami. During the plea, Ternus admitted that he fraudulently concealed his French criminal history to obtain a U.S. visa, which he then used to enter and remain in the United States. During the plea, Ternus admitted that, prior to applying for his U.S. visa, he had been arrested in France on at least seven separate occasions, and that he had been convicted in France of assault with a deadly weapon. Ternus also admitted that he knew the visa he obtained and used had been procured by falsely claiming to have no French criminal history. (Department of Justice)
In this April 2009 article by Michael J. Mooney of The Broward Palm Beach New Times, "Trail ends in Florida",  the Nice museum thieves are identified as Pierre Noël-Dumarais "an escaped felon with a long record"; a former boxer; an "Armenian drug dealer living in Marseilles"; and two others.  Mooney tells of a fifth painting targeted in the theft but left on the floor when it couldn't fit into the bag for stolen loot.  According to Mooney, Ternus, living in Florida, got involved in brokering the sale of the Nice paintings via the Armenian drug dealer two months after the theft.  Ternus, according to Mooney, came to the dubious art broker from Philadelphia (Wittman) through local drug traffickers involved in selling cocaine from Colombia. In September 2008, Ternus was sentenced to five years in prison at the Federal Detention Center in Miami.

In March 2010, Ternus' conviction was affirmed ("Art thief appeals verdict") by the Eleventh Circuit:
Ternus challenges his conviction, arguing that the foreign commerce element in 18 U.S.C. § 2314 is “jurisdictional.” He contends that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over his case because there was insufficient evidence in the record that he conspired to transport the stolen paintings in foreign commerce. Ternus’ guilty plea waived all non-jurisdictional defects in the proceedings against him.

In November 2011, the seven men on trial in Aix-en-Provenance claimed that the FBI had instructed them to steal the four paintings from the museum in Nice four years earlier.  A few days later, the French court passed out sentences of two to nine years to the guilty (Noël-Dumarais, who had used a weapon in the heist, received the longer term).

October 17, 2012

Rotterdam Art Heist: The Day After

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Questions remain the day after seven stolen paintings estimated to be worth "tens of millions" remain missing from the Kunsthal art gallery when yesterday morning the 20-year-old building's "state of the art" security system alerted private security, then the Rotterdam police, that the contemporary art space had been robbed.  A Picasso, two Monets, a Gauguin, a Matissee -- five of the paintings were attributed to artists favored by thieves for their fame and perceived value -- plus another by Lucien Freud (famous contemporary artist) and Meijer de Haan (1852-1895), whose name may not be as recognizable but the Dutch artist's paintings are in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris and the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena (Meyer de Haan painted with Gauguin in Brittany).

Here are links to CBS News (video and text) on the heist and speculation as to whether or not it was an inside job because, as discussed by Chris Marinello of The Art Loss Register, the theft "just went too smoothly".   In the later segment, CBS News correspondent John Miller, a former FBI deputy director, describes art thieves not as sophisticated urbanites (see Pierce Brosnan in The Thomas Crown Affair) but "knuckleheads" who put a lot of time into taking the paintings but will either seek assistance in selling the paintings that usually involves undercover agents, or will try to ransom the paintings back to the insurance company, or will keep the paintings for years as a 'get out of jail card'.

The question after an art heist is more overwhelmingly not who took the paintings but when or if they will ever be recovered.  Listing the stolen paintings into the database of The Art Loss Register, with the media, and other law enforcement agencies is meant to stop the sale of the works through legitimate art dealers and auction houses.

In Kate Connolly's piece yesterday in The Guardian ("Rotterdam art thieves take valuable paintings in dawn heist"), "security experts speculated that the thieves might have taken advantage of Rotterdam's port -- one of the largest in the world -- to swiftly move the paintings abroad" and that the paintings could have been "stolen to order" or held for ransom.

According to the Associated Press (published online here with the Winnipeg Free Press), Dutch police are following up on "15 tips from the public", "studying video surveillance images", and have "focused their attention on a rear door that thieves most likely used to get into the gallery before snatching the paintings."

Here DutchNews.nl reports that the Kunsthal reopened Wednesday and replaced the spaces formerly occupied by the stolen paintings with works from the Triton Foundation (and notes that journalists outnumbered visitors inside the museum).

June 11, 2012

Boston Globe: FBI plans public awareness campaign aimed at recovering paintings stolen from Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

I am always curious when a new article is published more than two decades after the world's largest museum theft, the 1990 robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.  It has been almost one year since James "Whitey" Bulger was apprehended in Santa Monica, California, briefly giving rise to expectations that one of the FBI's formerly "Most Wanted" criminals would talk about the stolen paintings as a way to negotiate favorable treatment after his arrest.

The Boston Globe's article by Milton J. Valencia and Stephen Kurkjian, "Public's aid sought in '90  Gardner Museum heist", explains that the FBI plans a "public awareness campaign" to recover the paintings, much like the strategy used to capture fugitive Bulger.  Let's all hope that the efforts are successful and that the museum's security director, Anthony Amore, will finally put the artworks back into the empty frames hanging on the institution's walls.

May 6, 2012

Curry and Ellis: New website for Stonehill Art Crime Symposium

Virginia Curry and Richard Ellis at Q&A session
 at the Southeastern Technical High School, September 2011
Virginia Curry and Richard Ellis, formerly of the FBI and Scotland Yard, respectively, have a new website for Stonehill Art Crime Symposium they will be teaching this summer.  (You can read more about this program here on the ARCA blog).

The website address is here.  The program also has a twitter account @artcrimeclass for information updates.

In support of the Stonehill Initiative, ARCA is offering a tuition subsidy for its postgraduate certificate program in Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection for students who complete the Stonehill short course. 

March 30, 2012

FBI Reports 10 Year Sentence for Former Caretaker of Millionaire for Stealing $3.2 Million and Valuable Artwork

Warhol Heinz 57 box (FBI)
A press release from the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced "Former Caretaker of Millionaire Sentenced in Manhattan Federal Court to 10 Years in Prison for Stealing $3.2 Million and Valuable Artwork":
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that James Stephen Biear, 51, of Ossining, New York, was sentenced today to 10 years in prison for stealing $3.2 million and artwork, including Andy Warhol's silkscreen on a wooden crate, mimicking a Heinz 57 case of ketchup (the "Warhol Heinz 57 box"), from his former employer, an elderly millionaire. Biear was found guilty on November 22, 2010 of 10 counts of interstate transportation of stolen property, wire, mail, bank, and credit card fraud and money laundering, after a two-week jury trial.  Biear was sentenced today in Manhattan federal court by U. S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel, who also presided over the trial. 
In addition to the prison term, which reflected sentencing enhancements for abusing a position of trust and a vulnerable victim, Judge Castel sentenced Biear to four years of supervised release, imposed a $3.5 million forfeiture judgment, and ordered him to pay a $1,000 special assessment fee.  Restitution will be determined at a later date.
According to the FBI, in July 2008, Biear had sold the Andy Warhol artwork to an art collector in New York City for approximately $220,000.  Biear falsely claimed at the sale that the Warhol Heinz 57 box had been owned by his uncle.  Warhol had gifted the Warhol Heinz 57 box to an art collector in 1964, and in April 2007 the artwork was noticed to be missing from the art collector's residence after a birthday party.

Biear also stole "a playing card on paper by Marcel Duchamp, an ink drawing by Francis Picabia, a watercolor by Joe Brainard, and a charcoal drawing by Alex Katz, according to the FBI.

Biear will face additional charges in Westchester related to another painting and a false insurance claim, Barbara Leonard reports in "Warhol Thief Gets 10 Years for Conning Boss" for Courthouse News:
Biear filed a false insurance claim in August 2009 for a painting by a 19th century English artist that he claimed had been stolen from him, prosecutors say.  After an apparent tip from Biear's ex-wife, authorities ultimately found the piece in Biear's attic.