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March 25, 2013

Sharon Cohen Levin Wins ARCA's 2013 Art Policing and Recovery Award

Sharon Cohen Levin, Chief of the Asset Forfeiture Unit in the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, won ARCA's 2013 Art Policing and Recovery Award.

Past winners: Vernon Rapley (2009), Charlie Hill (2010), Paolo Giorgio Ferri (2011), and Ernst Schöller (2012).

Ms. Levin been instrumental in securing the return of innumerable antiquities and other cultural property to foreign governments, and artworks and other cultural property to the families of Holocaust victims from whom they had been looted or subjected to forced sale by the Nazis.

In 2010, Ms. Levin's office resolved the case of United States v. Portrait of Wally with the Leopold Museum in Vienna.  This case, involved the Estate of Lea Bondi Jaray and lasted over ten years that resulted in: payment of 19 million dollars to the Estate (reflecting at least the full value of the painting); an exhibit of the painting at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, before it returned to the Leopold Museum, and permanent signage to accompany the painting at the Leopold Museum and anywhere else in the world where it is exhibited, which sets forth in both English and German the true provenance of the painting and the legacy of Lea Bondi Jaray. The Wally case is credited with focusing the world's attention on the problem of Nazi-looted art.

In the past six years, the Southern District of New York has forfeited nearly $6 billion in crime proceeds. Ms. Levin pioneered the use of federal forfeiture laws to recover and return stolen art and cultural heritage property. The SDNY Asset Forfeiture Unit has initiated dozens of proceedings under the forfeiture laws -- seizing and returning artwork and cultural property to the persons and nations who rightfully own them.  Notable examples include the forfeiture and repatriation of stolen paintings by Lavinia Fontana, Jean Michel Basquiat, Roy Lichtenstein, Serge Poliakoff, Anton Graff and Winslow Homer; drawings by Rembrandt and Duhrer; an Etruscan bronze statute dated circa 490 BC; an antique gold platter dated circa 450 B.C.; a rare Mexican manuscript; a medieval carved wood panel which was originally inside the historic Great Mosque in Dvrigi; an Ancient Hebrew Bible owned by the Jewish Community of Vienna and stolen during the Holocaust and most recently, a Tyrannosaurus Bataar skeleton looted from the Gobi desert in Mongolia.