Showing posts with label Don Hrycyk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Don Hrycyk. Show all posts

January 11, 2015

FBI Agents and LAPD officer discuss the recovery of 3/4 of the paintings stolen from Encino residence in 2008

Press Conference at FBI building in Westwood, CA
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin,
  ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief

Here's a holiday-delayed follow up post to the press conference on the recovery by the LAPD and the FBI of paintings stolen from an Encino residence. All comments quoted below were reviewed and approved by both the FBI and the LAPD officers involved. I would like to thank retired FBI agent Virginia Curry who made a phone call to get me into the press conference.

The FBI's Public Affairs Specialist Laura Eimiller, who organized the news conference, provided in an email dated December 20 the 'gist of the remarks made by Mr. Lewis.' With her permission, his comments at the press conference are published here:
Hello, my name is Bill Lewis, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.   I’m joined here today by…. 
On August 23rd, 2008, the LAPD initiated an investigation into a residential theft of nine pieces of artwork that are valued at up to $12 million, though that number may change when experts further evaluate the paintings.  At that time, the company which insured the paintings had offered a $200,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the stolen artwork.   This past September, that reward offer generated a lead overseas.  From that point, the FBI’s Art Crime Team members here in Los Angeles worked jointly with the LAPD. 
Raul Espinoza
An undercover investigation led to an individual believed to be a fence conducting the sale of the artwork.   On October 23, 2014, a meeting was arranged in West Los Angeles with undercover agents posing as potential buyers and an individual believed to be in possession of the stolen artwork, now identified as Raul Espinoza.   By the end of the meeting, nine pieces of artwork were recovered and Espinoza was taken into custody. On October 27, 2014, a felony complaint was filed by the District Attorney in Los Angeles charging Espinoza with receiving stolen property.   
Art theft is multi-billion dollar industry and something the Bureau takes seriously to protect America’s culture and national treasures.  The Art Crime Team has also recovered art and cultural artifacts from other nations when it’s found or fenced through the United States.  If you’ll notice, much of the art on display was painted in the 20s and 30s so the rich history recovered here cannot be overstated. 
Investigators believe that others are associated with this crime and know that someone has valuable information.  We are offering a reward of up to $25,000 in exchange for information leading to the arrest and conviction of individuals responsible for this crime. 
I’d like to point out that this is still very much an ongoing investigation and, because we still have work to do, we aren’t able to go into detail on much of this, nor speculate on theories.  We wanted to give you an opportunity to see the paintings while they’re in our possession as evidence, and we hope that the publicity will turn into solid leads.  I’d like to turn this over to ... 
LAPD's Hrycyk at podium with FBI's Rivas (right)
Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) Art Theft Detail Detective Don Hrycyk described art theft as unprofitable, noting that after six years, the stolen art had still not been sold. Hrycyk said law enforcement speculated that whoever stole the paintings either knew the elderly owners or someone who worked in the household. The husband died within four months of the crime and the wife died this year, Hrycyk said. [Here's a link to the LAPD's announcement of the recovery.]

Bill Lewis, FBI assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles office, said that the FBI and the LAPD would not give up on an investigation until they recover the artifacts.

As to the condition of the returned paintings, Hrycyk said that some of the frames had been removed and that the paintings were in “not that bad” of condition (the artworks had been examined by a professional conservator).

FBI Agent Elizabeth Robert speaks to Spanish-speaking press
At the end of the press conference, Elizabeth Robert, Assistant Special Agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office, spoke in Spanish for Spanish-speaking media correspondents (the suspect, Raul Espinosa, is a Mexican national).

Elizabeth Rivas, Special Agent for the FBI, has also worked on the Mathew Taylor fraud case and assisted the Santa Monica Police in the art theft of the works of Jeffrey Gundlach. I asked her if she had any surprises in working this case. “I was surprised at how quickly we recovered the artworks when the case reopened in September 2014,” Agent Rivas said. “We had good tips and good undercover agents.”

FBI Agent Elizabeth Rivas stands next to
recovered painting by Lyonel Feininger
I also asked Don Hrycyk who has handled more than 800 cases over 20 years for the LAPD, what surprised him about this case. “It’s surprising to walk into a home and realize that there were millions of dollars of art on the wall without proper security meaning the security precautions were inadequate for the protection of a multi-million dollar art collection," Detective Hrycyk said. "This is a common problem I have seen over the years - either inadequate security or adequate security that is not consistently used (not setting the alarm, leaving doors unlocked, surveillance cameras that don't work, etc.)."

What about when the art is recovered? Any surprises?

“One painting was brought to a location strapped to the roof of a car," Detective Hrycyk said. "The thieves did not know how to care for art.”

What is the end goal of the reward?


“We want to recover the other three pieces of stolen art,” Hrycyk said. “We also want to see the link between the original burglary and the defendant (Espinosa). These people may still be connected to someone still employed in a household.”

Here are other photos of the press conference and the recovered paintings as displayed there:

Painting by Marc Chagall

Painting by Chaim Soutine

Painting by Arshile Gorky

Painting by Diego Rivera

Painting by Chaim Soutine

Painting by Kees van Dongan

Painting by Emile Nolde

Painting by Hans Hofmann




FBI's Elizabeth Rivas at podium


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.

December 3, 2012

The Journal of Art Crime, Fall 2012: Noah Charney's Q&A with Joshua Knelman

In the Fall 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, editor-in-chief Noah Charney interviews Joshua Knelman, a journalist living in Canada who's first book, Hot Art, is about investigating stolen art.  In it he profiles Don Hrycyk and follows the story of several heists and their subsequent investigations.  Along the way he speaks with a number of ARCA staff and colleagues.

"We chatted with Joshua about his research and how he came to write this book," Noah introduces.

Here's the first question Noah Charney asks Joshua Knelman:

Which art theft do you discuss in your book and how did you choose those cases in particular? With over 50,000 reported art thefts per year worldwide, and with the Carabinieri databased packed with over 3 million stolen artworks, it must have been tough to choose where to focus.
I chose to focus on cases related to me by a wide range of sources, and followed the threads, hoping to identify criminal patterns.  I was less interested in following one art theft case than in figuring out how art theft as a phenomenon works.  So it wasn't a matter of one particular case.  The book showcases a wide variety of art thefts ranging from blockbuster art heists, to art gallery smash and grabs, to the almost invisible plague of thefts from private residences.  It was this last category which seemed to be less covered, but persuasive.  When I began the book, I have to admit, I was hoping for a Thomas Crown Affair story I could follow, bu the reality turned out to be far more complex, and, to my mind, more interesting.
You may read the rest of this interview by subscribing to The Journal of Art Crime through the ARCA website.






May 4, 2012

BOOK REVIEW CONCLUDED: Joshua Knelman's Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives through the Secret World of Stolen Art

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

(You may find the first two parts here and here)

In London, Julian Radcliffe, founder of the Art Loss Register, a private company originally funded by auction houses and insurers to create a database of stolen art, tells Knelman of his effort to establish a stolen art database for art dealers and auction houses.  The company also reported over $200 million in art theft recoveries by 2008, including recoveries of paintings by Cézanne, Edouard Manet, and Pablo Picasso.

“Famous paintings are just a small percentage of what is being stolen,” Radcliffe told Knelman, [adding that] most of the art on the ALR list consists of minor paintings and antiques, and fewer than 1 per cent of those are ever recovered.

Radcliffe explains that art dealers often didn’t question why they could purchase a painting cheaply.  Sometimes if art dealers found out the art was reported stolen on ALR, they would not buy the work but refer it to someone else.  Even art thieves like to search the database to see if a painting has been reported stolen.

In the over 1,000 recoveries Radcliffe has enjoyed, in only three cases was the thief not after the paycheck for the stolen art, and most of the art that wasn’t immediately passed on to a dealer or auction house was stored in a vault, a closet, an attic, or a basement.
“Transactions in the art world are often carried out anonymously … and this cult of secrecy can be taken advantage of by criminals,” said Radcliffe.  “The art trade is the least regulated and least transparent activity in the commercial world, and the portability of the times and their international market make them very attractive for moving value, unobserved.”
Radcliffe said that the average value of stolen art is under $10,000 and that thieves will pass these items off to fences, who will then move them into the outlands of the art market: to small auction houses or galleries, or across oceans…. About half of all stolen art recovered by the ALR was found in a different country from where it was originally stolen. 

In the United States, Knelmen meets Special Agent Robert K. Wittman, then a Senior Art Investigator for the Rapid Deployment Art Crime Team for the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  Wittman was six months away from retirement.  The 1996 law, The Theft of Major Artwork had made it a federal crime to steal from a museum or to steal a work of art worth more than $5,000 or older than 100 years.  Knelman tells how Wittman recovered a Norman Rockwell painting in Brazil just three months after helping with the recovery effort after the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Knelman meets Matthew Bogdanos who had lived one block from the WTC on 9/11.  The assistant U. S. district attorney, a Marine reservist, led the art theft investigation of the National Museum of Iraq after looting in 2003, and established an amnesty program to recover the stolen antiquities.

In the fall of 2009, Knelman meets Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, head of the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Art Crime Team which had reorganized in response to the looting of the Iraqi museum.  Magness-Gardiner echoes what Knelman heard in his first meeting with an art thief in Toronto six years earlier about an unregulated and undocumented art market based on secretive transactions involving millions of dollars.

I asked Magness-Gardiner if it was fair to say that no one had a handle on how large the black market in stolen art had become.  “Yes, that’s fair to say,” she answered....  “When we say ‘black market,’ really what we mean are those stolen items that are in the legitimate market and shouldn’t be there.  The black market isn’t separate.  So we’re talking about items that have no history.  The collectors, the museums, and the dealers all partake on some level.”

Magness-Gardiner explains:
“Art is one of the biggest unregulated markets in the U. S.  The business of art tends to be very closed and secretive.  It is still business done on a handshake.  Financial transactions are quite difficult to track, because you don’t have a paper trail.  How art is bought, sold, and moved is a challenge in itself to understand.  When a piece of art is bought or sold, there is the movement of the physical object from one location to another.  There is also the transfer of money from one bank account to another.  There is nothing to link those two events.”
Magness-Gardiner addressed the lack of information about the collecting history or previous ownership of an object of art or cultural property:
“Another problem built into a business-on-a-handshake model is the issue of provenance.  The first thing we tell a new agent to do is to find out whether or not the work of art that has been stolen is, in fact, real.  Where does it come from? Where are its records? We don’t know until we do a background investigation on the piece of art.”  She continued, “Looking at the authenticity of a piece is always detective work.  Unlike most other material items manufactured today, art does not have serial numbers.  Lack of a serial number is one element that really distinguishes art from other types of property theft.  The only parallel is jewellery and gems – difficult to trace because they don’t have a serial number either, and so they are particularly valuable to thieves,” she said. 

“The middlemen and the dealers don’t want other people to know their sources.  This can stem from a legitimate business concern, because if other dealers find out who their sources are, they could use those same sources.”
Knelman dedicates a chapter to the art crime investigator, Alain Lacoursière, who had worked on art thefts as part of his police job until he retired. When Knelman met the new generation of the  Quebec Art Squad they didn’t know of the work of the LAPD Art Theft Detail until Knelman told the French-speaking detectives of Hrycyk’s work.

In Hot Art, Knelman successfully brings a personal narrative navigating the disparate international world of art theft and recovery that almost unknowingly tell of the same story of theft and laundering stolen art through the legitimate market and the limited resources to combat the problem.  From England’s first art investigative team, the Sussex Police’s art and antiques squad, in 1965 to information flourishing on the internet through blogs such as Art Hostage (written by the former  Brighton Knocker Paul "Turbo" Hendry), and information dispersed by Interpol, the LAPD’S Art Theft Detail, Quebec’s Art Crime Squad, and the Museum Security Network, who in the English-speaking world will be the next law enforcement officers to continue the work of its pioneers?

May 3, 2012

BOOK REVIEW CONTINUED: Joshua Knelman's Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detectives through the Secret World of Stolen Art

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

(Continued from yesterday)

In 2008, as economic chaos grips the bond markets and art prices continue to increase, Knelman interviews Donald Hrycyk of the Los Angeles Police Department; Richard Ellis, former head of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiquities Squad; Julian Radcliffe of the Art Loss Register; FBI Art Investigator Robert Wittman; Matthew Bogdanos who led the recovery effort for antiquities looted from the National Museum of Iraq in 2003; Giles Waterfield, the former director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery who helped to recover “the Takeaway Rembrandt”;  and Bob Combs, head of The Getty’s security.

Knelman finds cooperation with Detective Hrycyk of the LAPD’s Art Theft Detail, the nation’s only full-time municipal unit dedicated to investigating art-related crimes.  The detective discusses solved cases, methods of investigation, and takes Knelman to the evidence warehouse. Knelman recounts Hrycyk’s background from patrolling the streets of South Central Los Angeles to the detective’s patient and precise work investigating art thefts.  In 2008, Hrycyk was training his partner, Stephanie Lazarus, just as his former boss and mentor, Bill Martin, had trained Hrycyk 1986 to 1989.

In Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, art theft was a hidden crime, blending many different worlds.  It cut across socio-economic lines and could move in a heartbeat from blue-collar to white-collar criminals.  A thug who knew nothing about art except that it was valuable could steal a painting; that same afternoon, the painting could wind up in the possession of an auction house; within the week or the month, it could be sold to one of the Los Angeles art elite.

In addition to visiting art galleries, auction houses, and museums, Hrycyk read the 1974 book by Laurie Adams, Art Cop, about the work of a former undercover New York City narcotics officer, Robert Volpe, who was probably the first detective in North America to investigate art theft full-time.  Knelman writes:
Volpe’s investigations included burglaries, robberies, and consignment frauds – when an artist or patron would lend a piece of work to a gallery and the gallery would vanish or refuse to return the art.  He believed that art theft in New York in the 1970s had reached the same stage as narcotics a decade earlier.
Hrycyk tells Knelman that the unregulated art world (just like the drug dealers Hrycyk arrested for years) relied upon a code of ethics where not asking for information seems to be part of that world’s business practices.  Buyers and sellers of art use middlemen just as drug dealers do.  “It is considered rude to ask questions about the provenance of an artwork – who owned it, where it came from.  Embarrassment is often one of the leading factors for secrecy,” Hrycyk tells Knelman.

Martin retired in 1992 but it wasn’t until two years later that Hrycyk returned to the Art Theft Squad to work with a rotating string of partners until he chose Lazarus to train in 2006.  Hot Art opens with a chapter on a ride-a-long with Hrycyk and Lazarus to the crime scene at an antiques store on La Cienega and recounts the detectives’ investigation.  A year later, Lazarus would be arrested for the murder of her ex-boyfriend’s wife and this year she was convicted of the crime.  Hrycyk, one of the most senior officers of the LAPD, has no successor to continue the investigative work built upon two decades of contacts in the art market.

Knelman’s sister, a student at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, introduces her brother to her thesis advisor Giles Waterford who had been the curator at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in 1981 when “the takeaway Rembrant” was stolen for the third time.  Rembrant’s very small painting titled Jacob de Gheyn III is an example of “Headache art” which attracts significant media attention.  Waterfield recounts his negotiations with a German businessman for a “Finder’s Fee” that leads to the recovery of the painting.

Paul "Turbo" Hendry tells Knelman that ‘there was one detective in London, in particular, who made his reputation dealing with headache art cases’, Richard Ellis, the man who re-started Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Squad.

As a detective, Ellis had been involved in a number of high-profile cases, including reclaiming a Vermeer from a criminal organizer in a chase that lasted seven years and spanned half a dozen countries.  That case was chronicled thoroughly in The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art, by Mathew Hart.

Ellis’ interest in art theft began with the burglary of his parents’ home in 1972 and the subsequent recovery of his family’s property at the Bermondsey Market, London’s Friday-only open market of junk and antiques.  Ironically, Ellis was never allowed to work on the Philatelic Squad that evolved from investigating crimes in the stamp market to the unregulated antiques industry that operated as Scotland Yard’s first Art and Antiques Squad.  Knelman recounts Ellis’ strategy of reopening the department in 1989 after it had been closed for five years. Ellis cases included the recovery of paintings stolen from the Russborough house in 1986; the 1994 recovery of Edvard Munch’s The Scream stolen from Norway’s National Gallery; and Jonathan Tokeley-Parry’s smuggling of antiquities out of Egypt in the 1990s. Knelman writes:
For Ellis, the Russborough case provided the link between stolen art and organized crime, diamond dealers, and a network that stretched across Europe.  The Schultz case, which involved 14 countries on four continents, proved that the stolen art network was sophisticated and involved criminals at all levels of the trade, from the men who dig in the dirt to the men in the shops and galleries on Madison Avenue.
Ellis retired from Scotland Yard in 1999.  ‘He told me that his success as a stolen-art detective was primarily due to his ability to gather information.  He relied on a network of informants to keep him abreast of what was happening in the criminal underworld.  His squad of detectives paid cash for useful information.  “Every Friday the calls would come in.  Payday,” Ellis explained.

Book review concludes tomorrow.

April 25, 2012

LAPD Art Cop and his example of a fake Certificate of Authenticity

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

Don Hrycyk is the only full-time police officer assigned to investigate art crime and makes up the Los Angeles Police Department's Art Theft Detail.  Here is an example of a fake Picasso work and its equally disreputable Certificate of Authenticity from Detective Hrycyk's collection.


Certificate of Authenticity

Picasso

Picasso, Pablo (1881-1970). Born on October 25, 1881, in Malaga, Spain.  Pablo Picasso was probably the most famous artist of the twentieth century.  During his artistic career, which lasted more than 75 years, he created thousands of works, not only paintings but also sculptures, prints, and ceramics.  He almost single-handedly created modern art.  He changed art more profoundly than any other artist of this century.  First famous for his pioneering role in Cubism, Picasso continued to develop his art with a pace and vitality comparable to the accelerated technological and cultural changes of the twentieth century.  Each change embodied a radical new idea, and it might be said that Picasso lived several artistic lifetimes. Pablo Picasso died on April 8, 1973 in Mougins, France at the age of 91.

“Pour Roby” (Portrait of a Young Man). Plate signed on the lithographic plate by Picasso and shown in reverse on the printed image.

Entitled: “Pour Roby”

Description: Restrike Etching









March 16, 2012

CNBC's "American Greed" on "Fine Art: Portrait of Fraud -- the story of Kristine Eubanks, Jimmy Mobley and "Fine Art Treasures Gallery" and Certificates of Authentication

By Angela Kumar, ARCA Class of 2011

CNBC’s American Greed aired Fine Art: Portrait of Fraud at 10 p.m. on Wednesday night.   This episode told the story of Los Angeles entrepreneur Kristine Eubanks, owner of Finer Image Editions, who in 1995 used the then-new technology, the glicée printer, to reproduce artworks and sell them to Princess Cruise Lines. Eubanks later launched “Fine Art Treasures Gallery”, a nationally televised auction of “rare” and “authentic” artworks advertised as signed by artists such as Rembrandt, Picasso, Chagall and Dali, all offered at a fraction of their market value. Eubanks along with her husband and auctioneer, Jimmy Mobley, duped thousands of viewers and scored millions on fake artworks.

Los Angeles Police Department's Art Theft Detail Detective Don Hrycyk and the FBI’s Art Crime Team Special Agent Christopher Calarco are interviewed.

A preview of the program, as well as “extras” including videos of Detective Hrycyk speaking about forged Certificates of Authenticity and Special Agent Calarco explaining how the Bureau’s Art Crime Team was created, can be found here.

Additional episodes related to art crime can be found on CNBC’s website and include the following:

Season 1
Two Maxfield Parrish paintings -- worth $4 million -- vanish into the night!
A museum quality art collection worth more than $4 million dollars is stolen!

Season 2
A dark night. A clever plan. $300 million in art is stolen from a Boston museum. Paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Manuet disappear into the night!
Enter the mysterious world of art fraud. An elaborate sting operation exposes Dr. Vilas Likhite....a doctor stripped of his medical license who begins a new career as a con man selling fake art treasures!
He's an art collector, the former chairman of Sotheby's and a convicted felon. Alfred Taubman takes us inside the price-fixing scandal at Christie's and Sotheby's.

March 14, 2012

Joshua Knelman Launching "Hot Art" at The Flag Art Foundation in New York on March 22

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

"Interpol and UNESCO listed art theft as the fourth-largest black market in the world (after drugs, money-laundering, and weapons).  But what did that mean? ... one point was clear: don't look at the Hollywood versions of art theft -- the Myth.  This is a bigger game, with more players, and the legitimate business of art is directly implicated.  A lot of the crimes are hidden in the open.  Stealing art is just the beginning.  Then the art is laundered up into the legitimate market, into private collections, into the world's most renowned museums." -- excerpt from Joshua Knelman's Hot Art

Toronto journalist Joshua Knelman, author of Hot Art: Chasing Thieves and Detective Through the Secret World of Stolen Art (Tin House Books, 2012), will launch the American Trade Paper version of his  book from 6 to 8 p.m. on March 22 at The Flag Art Foundation in New York.

Knelman’s four year investigation of stolen art began with a local story about a burglary at a gallery in Toronto and ended with an international perspective. His nonfiction book begins in Hollywood in 2008 with the Art Theft Detail of the Los Angeles Police Department in a ride along with Detectives Don Hrycyk and Stephanie Lazarus who are investigating the robbery of an antiques store on La Cienega Boulevard.  Knelman immediately contrasts the meticulous and steady work of the police (he describes Hrycyk working art theft cases "with the patience of a scientist") with the images of glamorous heist movies such as The Thomas Crown Affair (1999).

In the first two chapters ("Hollywood" and "Law and Disorder") he links organized crime with art theft: the Los Angeles District Attorney's office had identified an Armenian gang for the antique-store job on La Cienega. In the second chapter, Knelman describes his coverage for The Walrus, a Canadian magazine, on a burglary at a small art gallery in 2003 and how the thief threatened him, tried to hand over stolen property to him, and then tries to educate him "about how art theft worked as an industry" as a way of distracting Knelman for the thief's own crimes:
He discussed how poor the security systems were at most of the major cultural institutions and of course at mid-sized and smaller galleries.  That made his job easier.  So there was that angle -- art galleries and museums weren't adequately protecting themselves against pros like him. 
Then he veered in another direction. 
"Okay, this is how it works," he said.  "It's like a big shell game.  All the antique and art dealers, they just pass it around from one to another."  He moved his fingers around the table in circles and then looked up.  "Do you understand?" He looked very intense, as if he had just handed me a top-secret piece of information, but I had no idea what he meant.  What did art dealers have to do with stealing art?  But our meeting was over.
Knelman published an article in The Walrus in 2005, "Artful Crimes", about international art theft.

In his book, Hot Art, Knelman meets cultural property attorney Bonnie Czegledi (author of Crimes Against Art: International Art and Cultural Heritage Law (Carswell, 2010) who introduces him to the roles of Interpol; the International Council of Museums; the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) and the Art Loss Register.  Knelman traveled with Czegledi to an International Council of Museums conference in Cairo, at his own expense, getting shaken down by a conference organizer for additional hotel fees above and beyond what he had agreed to pay the hotel manager.  Knelman meets Canadian police officer Alain Lacoursière and speaker Rick St. Hilaire, then a county prosecutor in New Hampshire who lectured on the impact of art theft in the United States and "knew a lot about the impact of art theft on Egypt." He visits the Egyptian Museum in Cairo with St. Hilaire and provides a great history of the collection and Napoleon's visit in the 19th century.

Knelman provides a personal account, both thrilling and dangerous, and admirable.  The book contains primary information for research into the black market of art, including a few chapters with an art thief, Paul Hendry, in England.

The book also provides a detailed profile of Don Hrycyk at the LAPD and the history of the Art Theft Detail, beginning with the work of Detective Bill Martin and includes information about Hryck's investigation of a residential art robbery in Encino in 2008; other cases ("his work was the most detailed example I found of a North American city interacting with the global black market"); a tour of the evidence warehouse which included fake art that had been the subject of a string operation into a Dr. Vilas Likhite; and an anecdote of an attempted theft at an unnamed major museum under renovation in Los Angeles.  In 2008, Knelman also interviewed artist June Wayne, founder of Tamarind Lithography Workshop (now the Tamarind Institute), who had a tapestry stolen in 1975; Leslie Sacks, owner of Leslie Sacks Fine Art in Brentwood, who discusses security measures and two burglaries; and Bob Combs, director of security at The Getty Center.

Both Hrycyk and Czegledi reference art historian Laurie Adams' book, Art Cop, about New York Police Detective Robert Volpe, the first detective in North America to investigate art theft full-time (1971 to 1983) after his role as a undercover narcotics cop in the late 1960s in a famous case memorialized in the film The French Connection about a ring of heroin dealers importing the drug from France.

Knelman also interviewed Giles Waterfield, director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London when a Rembrandt was stolen in 1981; Richard Ellis, founder of Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Squad; and Robert K. Wittman, the first FBI agent to investigate art theft full-time, when Wittman was six months away from retirement; and Bonnie Magness-Gardiner from the Art Crime Team at the Federal Bureau of Investigation; and Alain Lacoursière, Montreal police officer investigating art crimes in Quebec, including the unsolved 1972 robbery of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

The book features the anonymous blogger Art Hostage (Paul Hendry) that turns out to be Knelman's source on art theft; Jonathan Sazonoff and his website The World's Most Wanted Art; and Ton Cremers and The Museum Security Network (MSN).

Joshua Knelman will also be speaking at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20, at Book Soup in Los Angeles.

October 1, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime, Spring 2011: Q&A with the LAPD Art Theft Detail

In the Spring 2011 issue of The Journal of Art Crime, ARCA Blog Editor-in-chief Catherine Schofield Sezgin interviews Detective Don Hrycyk who has worked on art theft and forgeries since 1994 with the Los Angeles Police Department's Art Theft Detail, the only full-time municipal law enforcement unit in the United States devoted to the investigation of art crimes.

The LAPD Art Theft Detail, founded in 1984, recovered $71 million in stolen art from 1993 through 2008.  In this interview, Detective Hrycyk, a former homicide officer working in South-Central Los Angeles, discusses the size of the problem of art crime in LA, smuggled antiquities, working with international law enforcement agenices, and the biggest challenge the LAPD Art Theft Detail faces in recovering a stolen work of art.

You may obtain a copy of The Journal of Art Crime through subscription at ARCA's website or by ordering an individual issue through Amazon.com.

June 1, 2011

LAPD Art Theft Detail Update and Security Recommendations

LAPD Downtown Los Angeles/Photo by Sezgin
by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Recently the ARCA Blog followed up on a few stories with Detective Don Hrycyk at the Los Angeles Police Department Art Theft Detail. In April, this blog had reported on the recovery of the first Superman comic book which had been stolen from the residence of actor Nicolas Cage in 2000. We emailed Detective Hrycyk for an update on the case.

"No, there is nothing I can talk about regarding the Superman comic," Detective Hrycyk wrote back. "However, the case does illustrate the importance of having good photos and documentation of cultural property, especially mass produced items such as a comic or book. There needs to be some way to positively identify a victim's property later. This can be as simple as adding several pencil dots in obscure locations known only to the owner or documenting stray aberrations, discoloration, or damage that will make the item unique and identifiable later.”

Los Angeles' City Hall/Photo by Sezgin
The LAPD Art Theft Detail has a website which describes completed and current cases. One particular Crime Alert asked for information on information requested on the whereabouts from people who have been victimized by of Daniel Lahoda, who's business practices had been questioned. We also asked Detective Hrycyk about an update.

"The investigation regarding Daniel Lahoda is on-going," Detective Hrycyk wrote. "This case illustrates how someone who represents himself as a champion for street artists can actually be taking advantage of the same artists and collectors at the same time. It also shows how a person's criminal conduct can remain hidden for many years until someone is able to connect the dots."