Showing posts with label residential. Show all posts
Showing posts with label residential. Show all 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.

January 9, 2013

Gundlach art theft: Six people charged with first-degree residential burglary, conspiracy and receiving stolen property three months after artworks recovered

One man has been accused of breaking into the private residence of financier Jeffrey Gundlach in Santa Monica, California, last September to steal 13 artworks by artists such as Piet Mondrian, Jasper Johns, and Joseph Cornell.  Hours later, the thief allegedly returned to take Gundlach's Porsche at the request of the manager of a Pasadena car & stereo shop where the paintings had been stashed.  It's about a 70-mile roundtrip between the site of the theft and the hiding place for the artwork.  Prosecutors also charge that the thief's mother and two brothers helped to conceal and sell the stolen paintings.  A sixth person is accused of receiving the stolen items.

This is the press release issued by the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office issued on January 4, 2013:
LOS ANGELES – Six people are awaiting arraignment this afternoon in connection with the $3.2 million theft of paintings, wine, jewelry and a car from financier Jeffrey Gundlach in September, the District Attorney’s Office announced. 
Darren Agee Merager, 43, allegedly broke into Gundlach’s Santa Monica home between Sept. 12 and Sept. 13, 2012, and stole valuable art work, jewelry and wine, said Deputy District Attorney Alva Lin with the Airport Branch office. Merager then allegedly returned hours later and stole Gundlach’s Porsche at the behest of Jay Jeffrey Nieto, 45. 
Nieto allegedly helped conceal the stolen art and other items at his Pasadena store. Pasadena police, who received a tip, and the Santa Monica Police Department investigated the case. 
Charged as co-conspirators are Merager’s 68-year-old mother, Brenda Joyce Merager, and two brothers, 29-year-old Wanis George Wahba and his 26-year-old brother, Ely George Wahba. The three allegedly tried to sell and conceal the stolen items. In addition, Wilmer Bolosan Cadiz, 40, is charged with conspiracy and receiving stolen items. 
The six, who are charged in case SA082879 with multiple counts, including first-degree residential burglary, conspiracy and receiving stolen property, are scheduled to be arraigned at the Los Angeles Superior Court, Airport Branch, in Department 144. 
Prosecutors will ask that bail be set at $10 million for each defendant. 
Merager, who has multiple prior convictions, is facing more than nine years in state prison if convicted.
Here's a few links to earlier coverage on this blog regarding the theft and the recovery of Gundlach's stolen art.

Here in the Beverly Hills Weekly last February is a notice that Merager was arrested on January 25, 2012 for receiving "known stolen property"; and here is a notice in the Laguna Beach Independent that Merager was arrested on May 17 for a Beverly Hills warrant for stolen property and that bail had been set at $500,000.  Merager, who's residence was identified as Lake Havasu (Arizona), travels extended from Los Angeles to Orange County.

September 26, 2012

Santa Monica Art Collector offers Million Dollar Reward for Stolen Mondrian plus $500,000 for other paintings

Composition (A) En Rouge Et Blanc
by Piet Mondrian
by Catherine Sezgin, ARCA Blog Editor-in-Chief

Santa Monica is a liberal seaside town -- once nicknamed 'The Republic of Santa Monica' -- offering access to beach and upscale amenities just 30 miles west of downtown Los Angeles.  This community of rent controlled apartments (located south) and multi-million dollar homes (located north) around Montana Avenue attracts homeless people to the parks and families to the good public schools.  Last year James "Whitey" Bulgar, Boston's notorious Irish mobster and one of the FBI's most wanted criminals for almost two decades was found in a rent-controlled apartment just blocks up from the busy retail district known as The Third Street Promenade.  Now one of Santa Monica's residents, a wealthy art collector and bond trader, has offered a substantial reward, including $1,000,000 for the return of his painting by Piet Mondrian, for art stolen from his home in September.

Jeffrey Gundlach, founder of the investment firm DoubleLine Capital, held a press conference September 24 to offer a $1.7 million reward for the fine art paintings and other objects taken in a burglary now being investigated by Santa Monica police ("Reward offered by L. A. bond guru adds to intrigue over art theft", Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2012).

"Green Target" by Jasper Johns
Gundlach is offering $1 million for the "undamaged return" (or information leading to) of a picture by Piet MOndrian and another $500,000 for the "successful return undamaged" of "Green Target" by Jasper Johns and two box constructions by Joseph Cornell  ("Bond trader offers $1.7-million reward for stolen art collection"LA Now, Los Angeles Times).  At the brief press conference, Gundlach said "no comment" regarding questions about whether or not the 13 pieces of fine art were insured and or any  details about the burglary or the investigation.  In this article, the LA Times showed images and identification provided by the owner of ten of the 13 stolen artworks: "The Cathedral Tours", 1916, by Guy Rose; "Glory of Autumn", 1930, a California landscape by William Wendt; "Untitled", 1958, abstract by Franz Kline; "Number 14," 1949, by Bradley Walker Tomlin; "The Desert Ramparts", 1920, an oil painting by Hanson Duvall Puthuff; "Green Target", 1956, by Jasper Johns; "Composition (A) En Rouge Et Blanc", 1936, by Piet Mondrian; "Medici Boy", 1946, a wood box construction by Joseph Cornell; and "Painting", 1950, by Philip Guston.

Here's a link to the online Santa Monica Patch which also identifies stolen paintings by Frank Stella and Cy Twombly. 

According to a September 19 press release issued by the Santa Monica Police Department:
On September 14, 2012, officers responded to a residence located in the 500 block of 12th Street on the report of a residential burglary that had occurred sometime between September 12th at 3 p.m. and September 14th at 8 p.m. 
"Cathedral Tours" by Guy Rose, 1916
The victim had just returned home from a trip and discovered that his residence had been burglarized.  Numerous high-end paintings and two wooden box art pieces had been stolen from various rooms throughout the home.  Also stolen was the victim's 2010 red Porsche Carrera 4S, which was parked in the garage, several expensive watches, wine and a small amount of U. S. currency. The estimated loss at this time is believed to be in excess of 10 million dollars.  Preliminarily, the the estimated loss is between 20 and 39 million dollars.
Here's a link to the images of the items reported stolen; Sergeant Richard Lewis is the contact person for the police department (richard.lewis@smgov.net).  Although the LA Times (in the above referenced article) names stolen art work as by Jasper Johns, Piet Mondrian and Richard Diebenkorn, the Santa Monica Police department does not identify the artwork by title or artist.  A search through the FBI's National Stolen Art File Search did not show any stolen paintings by either of the three artists.

Here's a link to a 12-minute video discussion between the Los Angeles Times business section journalist and former FBI agent Robert K. Whittman (.  Business reporter Stuart Pfeiffer asks Whittman if it is more likely that the only 'buyers' the art thieves will find for the stolen fine art are undercover law enforcement.

May 8, 2011

Mother's Day and Art Theft: Remembering A Mother's Day Ruse Two Years Ago in a Brazilian Heist and the Mother Who Destroyed Art Evidence

Happy Mother's Day!
(Photo by Erin Sibel Sezgin)

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

In my household, my adolescent children laugh a lot about the difference between what their mother does and what the holiday cards say mothers do -- apparently my children do not see me as someone who washes their laundry or spreads butter on their toast -- but as the person who insists on seeing art museums in every city they have visited and is undeterred by their reluctance to see one more exhibition. My children's lives changed when they heard their mother say, "My dream is to go to Italy and study art crime." But as a mother, I do believe that art helps the children understand our communal link to the past and art crime of course is a narrative form that focuses our attention on those artworks.

So today, while my children sleep in, I searched online about "Mother's Day and art theft" and found two interesting examples.

Two years ago the blogger "Art Hostage" wrote "Stolen Art Watch, Brazilian Art theft, Overkill or What" commenting on an article in "El National" in Caracas, Venezuela that reported on a residential art theft executed by a gang of twenty art thieves in Brazil who entered the home after the delivery of flowers for Mother's Day.

The second story is about the mother of repeat offender and art thief, Stephane Breitweiser, who destroyed artworks allegedly stolen by her son to eliminate evidence.

The Guardian's Jon Henley in 2002 reported "Priceless art haul destroyed by thief's mother" that Mireille Breitwieser destroyed 60 Old Master Paintings including works by "Boucher, Cranach, Watteau and Breughel".

Her son was arrested last month, again for stealing more art, Le Parisien recounted that Stephane's mother had previously (according to Google translate) "abandoned a tapestry on the edge of a motorway, paintings in a chapel, while copper paintings, discovered in a forest by a farmer, had been found in the barn of the farmer."

She served 18 months in prison for destroying art. This is exactly why mothers should not clean up their children's messes.

Happy Mother's Day!