Showing posts with label FBI Art Crime Squad. Show all posts
Showing posts with label FBI Art Crime Squad. Show all posts

May 3, 2016

The FBI is not giving up in the Isabella Gardner Museum Heist


FBI agents search the Manchester home of reputed gangster Robert Gentile.
Photograph by Mark Mirko | mmirko@courant.com
Despite a $5 million USD reward for information leading to the return of $500 million in artwork by Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, Vermeer, and more, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist has been unsolved for 25 years.   

In 2012 the FBI searched the Manchester, Connecticut home of notorious gangster Robert “Bobby the Cook” Gentile who the FBI has accused of being linked to the 13 stolen paintings.

Yesterday, May 2, 2016, the federal law enforcement agency went back in force for a second look.  Using metal detectors, rakes and shovels, the team of twelve agents set up a tent and tarp and scoured the terrain surrounding the residence on Frances Drive.  Gentile's son and wife Patricia were both present at the house throughout the search.  

In May 2013, Gentile, an alleged “made man” connected with the Philadelphia Mafia, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for illegally selling prescription drugs to an FBI informant and for possessing guns, silencers and ammunition. With a criminal history stretching back to the 1950s, he was freed from prison in 2014 on supervised release only to be arrested again in April 2015. 

He is currently being held without bail on federal weapons charges and is scheduled to stand trial in federal court in Hartford, Connecticut in July. 

Despite yesterday’s search, America's biggest-ever art heist remains unsolved. 

The 13 missing artworks are:  

a bronze eagle finial for a for a Napoleonic flagstaff
a Chinese Beaker or Ku
Degas, Cortege aux Environs de Florence
Degas, Three Mounted Jockeys
Degas, Program for an artistic soiree (1)
Degas, Program for an artistic soiree (1)
Degas, La Sortie de Pesage
Flinck, Landscape with Obelisk
Manet, Chez Tortoni
Rembrandt, A Lady and Gentleman in Black
Rembrandt, The Storm on the Sea of Galilee
Rembrandt, Self-Portrait
Vermeer, The Concert


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

$25,000 reward offered by FBI and LAPD for investigation into 2008 art burglary in Encino

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

The Los Angeles Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) held a press conference today and announced a $25,000 reward for help in the continuing investigation of a 2008 residential burglary:
The Los Angeles Police Department posted a $200,000 reward after the theft of the 12 paintings six years ago.

The FBI press release today concluded with:
"Also attached is a photo of the suspect, Raul Espinosa, 46, who was arrested in October and charged by the Los Angeles County District Attorney with possession of the stolen paintings. Espinosa's alias is Jorge Alberto Lara. Espinosa, who had been residing in Los Angeles prior to his arrest, is a Mexican national. The joint investigation by the FBI and the LAPD is continuing."

September 2, 2014

Miami New Times' Michael E. Miller reports FBI delayed return of Stolen Matisse to Venezuela over 'hole in its history'

by Catherine Schofield Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

According to the FBI, the Henri Matisse painting “Odalisque in Red Pants" stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas (MACCSI)) in Venezuela in December 2002 was recovered in an undercover operation in Miami on July 16, 2012. Two men were arrested and later convicted (see USDOJ here and the ARCA post here). Four days ago, Michael E. Miller reported (Aug. 28) in The Miami New Times that the "FBI Delayed Returning Stolen Matisse Painting to Venezuela Over Concerns It Was Looted by Nazis":
"There was a concern that it may have been subject to Nazi looting," says Special Agent Robert Giczy, a member of the FBI's art crime unit and one of the agents involved in the odalisque investigation. "There was a hole in its history from 1931 to 1959," he said. "The Third Reich was 1933 to 1945. So we had a responsibility to ensure the status of the painting was [kosher]." "It was like trying to find the hole in a donut: something that just wasn't there," Giczy said. With assistance from the Getty Research Institute in California, the Art Loss Register in London, and the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) in New York, the FBI determined in April of 2014 that the painting had not been stolen by Nazis but had been privately owned in London and America during that period. "That freed the painting so that it was available for repatriation," Giczy said.
Miller wrote a longer article on the theft in "Chavez, Matisse, and the Heist that Shook the Americas" (August 27, 2014). 

July 9, 2014

Matisse's "Odalisque in Red Pants" (1925) returned to Venezuela after FBI recovered it in 2012 in Southern Florida

by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Officials in Venezuela welcomed the return on Monday (July 7) of the Matisse painting, Odalisque in Red Pants (1925), believed to have been stolen in 2000 when it was substituted with a forgery at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Caracas (Laura Rojas, July 8, The Art Newspaper ("Stolen Matisse painting returned to Venezuela after more than a decade"):
The Art Newspaper reported last October that the US authorities began repatriation proceedings after the work was certified by a Venezuelan authentication committee and later confirmed by the director of the Henri Matisse Archives in Paris, Wanda de Guébriant.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recovered the painting in Southern Florida in July 2012 and arrested Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, 46, of Miami, Florida, and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, 50, of Mexico City, Mexico, for transporting and possessing the stolen painting.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, this case was the result of an FBI undercover investigation. According to the allegations in the complaint affidavit, Marcuello negotiated the sale of the Matisse painting, which had been previously stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas (MACCSI)) in Caracas, Venezuela in December 2002. The painting is valued at approximately $3 million. Marcuello allegedly admitted to the undercover agents during a meeting that he knew the painting was stolen and offered to sell the stolen painting for approximately $740,000.00. As part of the negotiations, Marcuello further agreed to have the painting transported by courier to the United States from Mexico, where the painting was being stored. The courier was subsequently identified as co-defendant Ornelas. According to the affidavit, on July 16, 2012, Ornelas arrived at the Miami International Airport from Mexico City, Mexico, hand-carrying a red tube containing the painting. On July 17, 2012, defendants Marcuello and Ornelas met with undercover agents and produced the Matisse painting titled “Odalisque in Red Pants” from inside the red tube. Upon inspection by the undercover agents, the painting appeared consistent with the original Henri Matisse painting reported stolen from the MACCSI museum. At the conclusion of the meeting, Marcuello and Ornelas were arrested.
In January 2013, Marcuello and Ornelas were sentenced to "to 33 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release. Maria Ornelas was sentenced to 21 months in prison, to be followed by three years supervised release. The defendants pled guilty on October 30, 2012 to charges relating to the transportation, possession and attempted sale of the stolen Henri Matisse painting."

The head of the FBI's Art Crime Squad, Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, had discussed this case at Art Recovery International's symposium at NYU in June. You can read more about the FBI's Art Theft Program here in a presentation by Magness-Gardiner.

April 4, 2014

Friday, April 04, 2014 - , 1 comment

FBI reportedly seizes private collection of cultural artifacts of 91-year-old Donald C. Miller with any arrest or charge; retired FBI agent Virginia Curry and anthropologist Kathleen Whitaker add their perspective

The Indianapolis Star interviewed Miller in 1998.
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor

Diana Penner, a journalist for The Indianapolis Star reported in an article ("FBI seizes thousands of artifacts from rural Ind. home", April 3) published by USA Today (along with contributions from the Associated Press) that on Wednesday, April 2, FBI agents took:
"thousands" of cultural artifacts, including American Indian items, from the private collection of a 91-year-old man who had acquired them over the past eight decades. ... The Rush County man, Don Miller, has not been arrested or charged. Robert A. Jones, special agent in charge of the Indianapolis FBI office, would not say at a news conference specifically why the investigation was initiated, but he did say the FBI had information about Miller's collection and acted on it by deploying its art crime team. FBI agents are working with art experts and museum curators, and neither they nor Jones would describe a single artifact involved in the investigation, but it is a massive collection. Jones added that cataloging of all of the items found will take longer than "weeks or months." 
"Frankly, overwhelmed," is how Larry Zimmerman, professor of anthropology and museum studies at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis described his reaction. "I have never seen a collection like this in my life except in some of the largest museums." 
The monetary value of the items and relics has not been determined, Jones said, but the cultural value is beyond measure. In addition to American Indian objects, the collection includes items from China, Russia, Peru, Haiti, Australia and New Guinea, he said. The items were found in a main residence, in which Miller lives; a second, unoccupied residence on the property; and in several outbuildings, Jones said. The town originally was Iroquois land. The objects were not stored to museum standards, Jones said, but it was apparent Miller had made an effort to maintain them well. The aim of the investigation is to determine what each artifact is, where it came from and how Miller obtained it, Jones said, to determine whether some of the items might be illegal to possess privately. Jones acknowledged that Miller might have acquired some of the items before the passage of U.S. laws or treaties prohibited their sale or purchase. In addition, the investigation could result in the "repatriation" of any of the cultural items, Jones said. 
Dark Rain Thom, a Shawnee descendant who served on the Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission under three governors, said the motives of such collectors vary, and that it's not uncommon for collections to come to light when an elderly person dies and descendants try to figure out what to do with artifacts. Often, she said, family members then quietly donate them to museums or arrange to return them to specific tribes — if that provenance can be determined. Some collectors are motivated by money, as the artifacts' sale can be lucrative, Thom said. But others with interests in archaeology or anthropology are motivated by a desire to understand the development of a culture through its art items and everyday implements. And others, Thom said, are in it for the thrill of discovery. The FBI and its partners might have a daunting task determining the origins and provenance of all of the items, Thom predicted. "It may be 30 years — or never — before they have it all cataloged."
The ARCA blog asked Virginia Curry, a retired FBI agent and a licensed private investigator, for additional perspective. Ms. Curry teaches art crime investigations with retired Scotland Yard officer Dick Ellis:
The United States Federal Code Title 18 Section 668. defines a Museum as: (1) ‘‘museum’’ means an organized and permanent institution, the activities of which affect interstate or foreign commerce, that— (A) is situated in the United States;(B) is established for an essentially educational or aesthetic purpose; (C) has a professional staff; and (D) owns, utilizes, and cares for tangible objects that are exhibited to the public on a regular schedule. (2) ‘‘object of cultural heritage’’ means an object that is—(A) over 100 years old and worth in excess of $5,000; or (B) worth at least $100,000. 
One might argue that Donald Miller's collection, in a rural area of Indiana satisfies the federal definition of a museum. While the affidavit in support of the search warrant on this 91-year-old man's home is not yet available on the Internet for review, it appears that there is no evidence that Mr. Miller is a physical threat or would cause harm to the artifacts he has so carefully maintained and displayed to his neighbors on request (on request, by the way, is as regular a schedule as one might ask for in such a rural Indiana community). There does not appear, at present, to be any indication that Mr. Miller is a danger to federal agents or that he would not have cooperated, if asked, in their investigation. Mr. Miller not only served his country on a highly important project at Los Alamos, but he also continued his life of service as a missionary. The artifacts he collected into his "Wunderkammer" were not only collected during his travel, but were also previously profiled in print media. Therefore, the "full corps press" (with an FBI Mobile Command Post) assault on this rural community appears to be extraordinary and an unnecessary show of force by the FBI and any other participating federal agency. I wonder if they contemplated entry on the home of the 91-year-old man with an FBI SWAT team? Regarding the suggestion that Miller’s collection was not maintained is "by museum standards" -- this is a qualification for accreditation of a museum by the AAM (American Association of Museums) and not a standard under federal law for the definition of a museum collection. I suspect that Mr. Miller might have been persuaded before this event to work with the FBI, or any other agency, and the same expertise the FBI will now have to employ to evaluate, inventory and collect this material in anticipation of an eventual legacy donation to another facility. Instead, this is an embarrassing and unnecessary show of force by the FBI to a community that is likely experiencing their first contact with the FBI.
The ARCA blog asked Dr. Kathleen Whitaker, former director, Indian Arts Research Center, School for Advanced Research in Santa Fe, to add a museum professional’s perspective to this story:
Virginia is right, there is no info forthcoming on why the FBI chose to assault this home with so much force. A search warrant has yet to be revealed. I personally find this descent on, and intrusion into a private home a bit disconcerting. I guess the provocation is yet to be revealed, but the number of agents that descended on the site seems outrageously overdrawn. What did they expect from this 91-year-old man? Cannons and oozies? 
AAM standards that define what a museum should be, align somewhat with the federal code; and, of course there are many differences between the 'types’ of museums that are identified, goals, purpose, adequate resources and public engagement - hence differences in the application of standards for each type of facility. AAM was not set up to enforce legal matters the federal code was - so naturally there is a difference in intent. Mr. Miller's establishment aligns more with what AAM would define as an "art museum," although I am unsure what his tax status might suggest in terms of operation. But yes, he is the owner-staff, he shares his collection with the public (assuming by appointment), and he maintains the artifacts through exhibition in glass cases, etc., and provides identity labels for those items on display (according to visuals seen in news reports and video). It seems probable, however, he does not identify his establishment as a " public museum" but rather as a private collection that he willingly shares with others. Legally then, his establishment does not seem to be functioning/operating under any tax or other "code" or "law" (at least that I am, at this writing, aware of). It is unclear to me how old his artifacts REALLY are based on media hype, but a few professionals such as archaeologists, anthropologists and the like have been "called in" to help identify the collection. One might summarily assume, there are both old and ethno- and historically important pieces among the artifacts in this vast collection. All the specifics have yet to be determined. Whatever the outcome, such outrageous ideas that it could take "30 years" to catalogue all the material is just plain inaccurate! 
FBI involvement (if based on the collection alone) suggests the problem could involve violations of NAGPRA [Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act], the Antiquity Act, The Indigenous Religious Freedom Act, Fish and Wildlife "feather" violations on artifacts, et al. Or perhaps the suggestion of illegal acquisition or transport across state and perhaps even country boundaries would mandate an FBI investigation - but not invasion! Usually collections of this magnitude are well known among professionals in the area, so I find surprising the local university professor was "frankly overwhelmed" by the collection's magnitude. It might be embarrassing to the university if it admitted knowledge of the collection's contents and it turns out there are violations. Finally, I have many more questions than answers. Primarily among them is: WHO informed the FBI? And WHY?
According to Frank Denzler reporting for the Rushville Republican: During his lifetime, Miller has traveled extensively throughout the world and is a known collector of Native American artifacts – a collection that encompasses not only his residence, but also a number of outlying buildings on his rural property.

Journalist Teresa Mackin included a video of Miller's collection during her report on WISHTV published on the station's website.

Jill Disis and Chris Sikich in Indiana reported for the IndyStar:
In rural Rush County, few are the people who have not heard of the house on 850 West — and the tales of the man who resides within. Some have seen the spectacles that pack the home, from the life-size Chinese terra-cotta figurine on the front porch to the seemingly authentic Egyptian sarcophagus in the basement. [...] But none of the stories friends and former colleagues shared with The Indianapolis Star on Thursday came close to explaining the latest mystery surrounding 91-year-old Don Miller, brought on by a throng of FBI agents that surrounded his house Tuesday.Why did they begin removing thousands of artifacts from Miller's home despite not charging him with a crime or placing him under arrest? And why, two days later, were they still there? "It's odd. The whole situation is odd," said Elizabeth Dykes, an acquaintance of Miller's who lives in Richmond. "I about flipped my lid yesterday when I saw this. What could he of all people have to hide?"
Paul Barford pointed out on his blog "Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage Issues" that in an article authored by Andy Proffet in the Shelbynews on April 3, "FBI working with artifact collector to return items" that according to an FBI agent "Miller had contacted the FBI about returning the items, but couldn't elaborate on why Miller was looking to repatriate the artifacts now."

February 19, 2014

"Riverside County Art Dealer Arrested in Federal Cyberstalking Case" (U.S. Attorney's Office Press Release Feb. 12); FBI Art Crime Team Investigating

FROM:  Thom Mrozek
Public Affairs Officer
United States Attorney's Office
Central District of California (Los Angeles) 

Issued on Wednesday, February 12 at 8:30 a.m. PST. EDS: a copy of the criminal complaint is attached. 
LOS ANGELES – The owner of a Temecula art gallery who allegedly stalked, harassed and attempted to extort several art world professionals was arrested today on federal cyberstalking charges. 
Jason White, 43, of Temecula, was arrested this morning without incident by special agents with the FBI. White’s arrest comes after federal prosecutors yesterday filed a criminal complaint that charges White with stalking, a crime that carries a potential penalty of five years in federal prison. White is expected to make his initial appearance this afternoon in United States District Court in downtown Los Angeles. 
According to the complaint, White engaged in a stalking and extortion scheme that targeted several art world professionals with whom he had had business relationships. When those business relationships ended, White posted derogatory information about his former associates on websites he had created, and then used threatening emails to demand hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for taking the websites down. According to the complaint, White repeatedly made extortionate demands through harassing text messages and emails, and when his demands were not met, he threatened violence.
In one part of the scheme, White targeted his former employer, an art publisher, as well as his supervisor at the art publisher’s company. After creating derogatory websites in the art publisher’s name, White allegedly sent threatening text messages to the art publisher, the publisher’s son, and his former supervisor. According to the complaint, in a text message to his former supervisor, he threatened to find her family and make her pay with “fear, anguish, and pain.” On several occasions, according to the complaint, White obtained pictures of her child and sent pictures of the child to the victim with comments such as “it will be very unfortunate if something was to happen to him.” During this time, according to the complaint, White continued to demand payment in exchange for taking down the websites he had created, and made it known to these victims that their business reputation would be ruined and that his websites would forever show up anytime anyone searched for their name on the internet. 
Late last month, White allegedly went to the Facebook page of a well-known artist represented by the art publisher and posted a picture of himself, along with a statement that he was focusing on the artist’s wife and child. White allegedly wrote that he would be waiting in the bushes to “knee cap a child.” Through the Facebook message, White told the artist, “your children are my end game.” 

An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court. 
The case against White is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Art Crime Team.

CONTACT:    Assistant United States Attorney Sarah Levitt
                        Cyber and Intellectual Property Crimes Section
                        (213) 894-2579 
Release No. 14-022

September 19, 2012

Private insurer offers up to $50,000 reward for information leading to the return of a Renoir painting stolen from a Texas residence last year; FBI adds "Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow with Flowers in Her Hair" to Top 10 Art Crimes

Today the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a press release adding a stolen Renoir painting, "Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow with Flowers in Her Hair", to its list of Top 10 Art Crimes and advertising a reward for up to $50,000 to be paid by a private insurer for information leading to the picture's recovery. The 1918 painting by Pierre-Auguste Renoir was stolen on September 8, 2011. According to the FBI:
The homeowner was watching television when she heard a loud noise downstairs. When she went to investigate, she was confronted by an armed man in a ski mask. ...The painting was taken with its frame intact from the stairwell where it hung. The masked robber, who forced entry through the back door of the home, is described as a white male, 18 to 26 years old, who weighs about 160 pounds and is approximately 5’-10” tall. He was armed with a large-caliber, semi-automatic handgun.
According to Anita Hassan reporting for The Houston Chronicle, the thief entered the home and demanded money and diamonds but the owner, protective of her sleeping son upstairs, offered her painting by Renoir as the most valuable monetary asset available.

The original reward was announced at $25,000, according to information released by The Art Loss Register who reported that the Houston Police Department and the FBI were working on the investigation. The FBI estimates that the stolen painting is worth $1 million. The private insurer is not identified. The painting's image has also been included in databases for The Art Loss Register (accessible for a fee) and Interpol (free access to registered users).

Stolen Renoir paintings

In addition to the Texan "Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow", Interpol's Stolen Art Database identifies 18 Renoir paintings as stolen and still missing since 1938.  The paintings have been stolen from places in Switzerland, France, Argentina, Germany, the United States, Japan, and Italy.

In mid-June 2012, $21 million worth of artwork, including a painting by Renoir and ten drawings by Picasso, were stolen from a businessman in a violent assault in Olomouc in the Czech Republic.

Recovered Renoir paintings

A Renoir stolen from Rome in 1984 re-appeared in Venice in 2009 just months after another Renoir painting stolen from Milan 33 years earlier had also been recovered.

An international law enforcement operation recovered Renoir's "Young Parisian" in Los Angeles and Rembrandt's "Self Portrait" in Copenhagen in 2005.  The two pictures, along with another Renoir, were stolen from the Swedish National Museum in Stockholm in 2000 when thieves used machine guns, tire spikes, and diversionary car bombs to penetrate the museum's security. Stockholm County Police had recovered Renoir's "Conversation" four years earlier in July of 2001.

July 18, 2012

Noah Charney on "Art Crime in North America" in the Spring/Summer 2012 issue of The Journal of Art Crime

A shorter version of this lecture was delivered via Skype to the conference entitled “Contemporary Perspectives on the Detection, Investigation, and Prosecution of Art Crime,” organized by the ARC Centre of Excellence in Policingand Security (CEPS) at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia on May 1-2, 2012. An extended version, including citations and new edits, will be published in two upcoming academic publications, both organized by CEPS.
Today I’m pleased to speak about art crime in North America. It is refreshing for me not to have to introduce art crime in general—if anyone knows about it, it will be my fellow speakers. So many of us are obliged to begin talks with an introduction to art crime, because the extent of it, and the facts obscured by fiction, film, and media misinterpretation, create a screen that can be difficult to see beyond. Even the facts, presented by reputable sources like the US Department of Justice, are not always clear and coherent. They rank art crime as the third highest-grossing criminal trade worldwide, behind only the drug and arms trades. This is based on a study that my friend and colleague, Vernon Rapley, could tell you more about—it was a combined Interpol and Scotland Yard study that was also integrated into the UK Threat Assessment in 2006/2007. Another number that we hear is that art crime is worth $6 billion per year. Of course no one has any real idea, and that number is little more than an arbitrary guess. It could only reflect the estimated black market value of art registered as stolen (meaning 7-10% of its estimated auction value, which is itself an unscientific measurement). If that number is correct, then art crime cannot be the third highest- grossing criminal trade. The number is far too low, and human trafficking, even illegal traffic of plants and animals, might be considered higher. We simply don’t know, which can be frustrating—it is also one of the reasons why art crime has gone relatively understudied until recent years. Criminologists shy away from a field such as this, which lacks extensive and accurate empirical data, and relies on macro-analysis from anecdotal material and the experience of those in the field, often related orally or even through the unreliable filter of the media.

June 12, 2012

FBI: Violent and Property Crimes Down (no separate accounting for antiquities or art theft)

FBI's National Stolen Art File: Picasso's Dance
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

A newly released Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report indicates 2011 crime rates in the United States declined from the previous year.  The report has categories for robbery and burglary; however, no numbers address art theft or looted antiquities.

The FBI's website does have a section on "Art Theft" which includes current art crime cases, the FBI's Top Ten Art Crimes, and information about the Art Crime Team.  The FBI's National Stolen Art File Search allows the public to search for stolen artworks.  For example, under paintings I searched for "Picasso" and received the title of ten pictures, some with images, such as Picasso's "Dance".  The FBI's Art Crime Team is a team of agents assigned in various offices of the federal agency.

May 10, 2012

More confirmation of old news? Pietro Grasso, head of the anti-Mafia crime unit, confirms in May that Caravaggio's Nativity of Palermo eaten by pigs

Caravaggio's Nativity from Palermo
In 2009, Judith Harris wrote for the ARCA blog a post titled "Breaking News on the Stolen Caravaggio Nativity" that a member of the mafia told law officials that the painting was likely destroyed in the 1980s.  But just last week, Journalist Noel Grima for The Malta Independent online reported May 6th that Pietro Grasso, the head of the anti-Mafia crime unit, confirmed again that legal authorities believe that the Caravaggio of Palermo has been eaten by pigs.

Possibly no one wants to believe that the painting has been so carelessly destroyed; the FBI and Interpol still list the painting as stolen and missing.

Grima repeats a formerly published article in eosarte.eu "Arezzo, il Procuratore antimafia Pietro Grasso: il Caravaggio di Palermo mangiato dai porci" dated April 22 reports that Grasso confirmed during a press conference earlier rumors that the Nativity paintings with Saints Lorenzo and Francis of Assisi has likely been tossed around by criminals and ended up in a pig sty and eaten by rats and pigs over the years.
"Ci verrobbe tempo perché è una lunga storia ... ma riteniamo che il quadro sia finito nelle mani di ignoranti che l'hanno hascosto in una porcilaia, dove magari porci poi se lo sono mangiato."
Grima translates:
The anti-Mafia's head's reply was a chilling one: "We need more time because the situation is rather complicated, but we believe the painting ended up in the hands of ignorant people who hit it in a pigsty where the pigs ate it."
The Malta connected dates back to the 17th century when the artist was imprisoned there.  Caravaggio himself lead a tumultuous lifestyle documented in Italian police records.

Grima claims that a painting similar to The "Nativity" by Caravaggio would be worth $200 million while the FBI website estimates the value at $20 million.

In October 1969, two thieves entered the Oratory of San Lorenzo in Palmero, Italy, according to the FBI, and removed Caravaggio's Nativity with San Lorenzo and San Francesco from its frame.

Interpol still reports the painting as missing on its stolen art database and places the date of the theft as October 18, 1969.  Interpol lists nine other works by Caravaggio (or from the school of or in the manner of) as stolen: Portrait of an Old Woman, Montepulciano, Italy, December 22, 1970; Doubting Tomas from Frascati, Italy, March 15, 1974; Beggars and Invalids (copper painting) from San Sebastian, Spain, April 1978; Man with a Pendant Earring, The Draughts Players, and Venice Feeding the Cupids, from La Storta, Italy, December 1, 1979; Saint Gerolamo, from Dozza, Italy, June 4, 1985; Two Men Playing Dice, from Lessona, Italy, July 27, 1986; and Los Jugadores from Santa Fe de Bogata, Colombia, October 24, 1999.

March 21, 2012

FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, March 2012: Noah Charney, Paul Denton, and John Kieberg on Art Theft

"Protecting Cultural Heritage from Art Theft" is an article by Noah Charney, Paul Denton and John Kleberg recently released in the March 2012 issue of the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin.
When someone thinks of art crime, a Hollywood image is conjured, one of black-clad cat burglars and thieves in top hats and white gloves. But, the truth behind art crime, one misunderstood by the general public and professionals alike, is far more sinister and intriguing. Art crime has its share of cinematic thefts and larger-than-life characters, but it also is the realm of international organized crime syndicates, the involvement of which results in art crime funding all manner of other serious offenses, including those pertaining to the drug trade and terrorism. Art crime has shifted from a relatively innocuous, ideological crime into a major international plague. 
Over the last 50 years, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has ranked art crime behind only drugs and arms in terms of highest-grossing criminal trades.1 There are hundreds of thousands of art crimes reported per year, but, despite this fact, the general public only hears about the handful of big-name museum heists that make international headlines. In Italy alone there are 20,000 to 30,000 thefts reported annually, and many more go unreported.2 In fact, even though reported art crime ranks third in the list of criminal trades, many more such incidents go unreported worldwide, rather than coming to the attention of authorities, making its true scale much broader and more difficult to estimate.
You may read the remainder of the article online here which includes a discussion of art police squads around the world (Scotland Yard Art and Antiquities Unit, Italy's Carabinieri Division for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, and the Dutch Art Crime Team).

March 18, 2012

St. Patrick's Day Celebrations Provided Distraction for the Robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990

Rembrandt's The Storm on the
 Sea of Galilee
is his only seascape.
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCABlog Editor

The Boston Globe highlighted the 15th anniversary.  PBS News hour noted the 20th anniversary (along with numerous other media outlets). Anthony Amore, the security director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, has his contact information plastered on the museum's website to collect the lastest leads on the masterpieces stolen from Boston on St. Patrick's Day weekend in 1990.  Despite all these efforts and a $5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of stolen paintings by such recognizable artists as Rembrant and Vermeer, empty frames continue to save the spaces on the walls from where these masterpieces were hung by their benefactor.

In 2009, Ulrich Boster published a book, The Gardner Heist: The True Story of the World's Largest Art Theft and a year later the Federal Bureau of Investigation used billboards to get the public to help solve the mystery of the largest art theft in American history.  The thieves removed works of art highlighted by Vermeer's The Concert; Rembrandt's A Lady and Gentleman in Black; Rembrant's The Storm on the Sea of Galilee; Rembrandt's Self-Portrait; and Govaert Flinck's Landscape with Obelisk, and Manet's Chez Tortoni. You may view the images of the missing art on the website of Stolen the Film, Rebecca Dreyfus' documentary highlighting art detective Harold Smith's efforts and obsession to find the paintings.

Just after midnight, St. Patrick's Day celebrations in America's most Irish of cities provided cover for two unarmed men to enter the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum dressed as police officers and to leave 90 minutes later with 13 stolen items worth more than $300 million.  Unconditional immunity offered to anyone who helps locate or recover these paintings.

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 11, 2012

FBI Arrests Collector in Wine Fraud After Investigation by the FBI Art Crime Team

LOS ANGELES - Museum Security Network disbursed the headline, "FBI Art (?) Crime Team - Wine collector accused of fraud, trying to sell fake French vintages." According to an article on The Los Angeles Times blog by Andrew Blankenstein, a resident of Arcadia, a suburb in the San Gabriel Valley, was arrested March 8 "by FBI agents assigned to the Los Angeles office after a years-long investigation by the FBI Art Crime Team".

The FBI's National Stolen Art File Search categorizes objects from "Altar" to "Wine Cooler" and includes traditional fine art (paintings, watercolors) and other valuables such as musical instruments, guns, prayer mats, and even ice pails.  The FBI's Top Ten Art Crimes range from Iraqi Looted and Stolen Artifacts to Theft from the E. G. Bührle Collection, Zurich.

In the fourth issue of The Journal of Art Crime (Spring 2011), James Charney reviewed The Billionaire's Vinegar (Three Rivers Press, New York, 2009) which discusses the issue of authenticating fine wines.

In the most recent issue of The Journal of Art Crime (Fall 2011), Noah Charney interviews Stuart George, an expert on fine wines, and the crimes committed in the wine world.
Noah Charney: How frequently do you suspect that fraud takes place in the world of high-priced wines? 
Stuart George: Leaving aside the 1787 Lafite mentioned above in "The Billionaire's Vinegar), I have never knowingly seen a “genuine fake” bottle of fine wine. Nonetheless, merchants’ and auctioneers’ outrage at fake wine is like Claude Rains’ shock at learning that there was gambling at Rick’s place in Casablanca. Anything that is valuable is in danger of being faked. 
More attention is being paid to preventing fraudulent wine than ever before, which suggests that as the Hong Kong/China market has gone supernova, the amount of fakes and forgeries being sold has increased significantly.According to some sources, fake wines flow in and out of Hong Kong like the cheap and illegal Irish reprints of books that allegedly flooded the British market in the eighteenth century. I was told that China’s government officially deplores the country’s inexorable production of fakes but in practice turns a blind eye.

February 25, 2011

The Journal of Art Crime: John Kleberg reviews "Priceless" and "Stolen Masterpiece Tracker"

In the fourth issue of The Journal of Art Crime, John Kleberg reviews Robert K. Wittman's book, "Priceless" (Crown Publishers, New York, 2006), and Thomas McShane's book, "Stolen Masterpiece Tracker" (Barricade Books, New Jersey, 2006).

Wittman's book is about his cases in art crimes investigations with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). McShane, also a retired FBI agent, reports on various international undercover criminal investigations during his 25-year-career with the FBI. Wittman was with the FBI office in Philadelphia; McShane was with the FBI office in New York. Both men take credit for either inspiring or creating the FBI's Art Crime Team which was established in 2004 and is today coordinated in Washington as the Art Theft Program, according to the reviewer.

John Kleberg is a retired Assistant Vice President at The Ohio State University where he was instrumental in organizing the program described as well as having administrative responsibility for security, police, and other business and finance operations. He also has been a law enforcement administrator, trainer, and educator in Ohio and Illinois. His undergraduate degree is from Michigan State University, graduate degree from the University of Illinois, and he has done post-graduate work at The Ohio State University and Kent State University. He is the author of numerous articles on campus safety and security issues and is a consultant on campus security issues, including campus museums, libraries, and galleries.

To seek out this piece, and many others, consider a subscription to the Journal of Art Crime—the first peer-reviewed academic journal covering art and heritage crime. ARCA publishes two volumes annually in the Spring and Fall. Individual, Institutional, electronic and printed versions are all available, with subscriptions as low as 30 Euros. All proceeds go to ARCA's nonprofit research and education initiatives. Please see the publications page for more information.