Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Heist 2015, 25 Years & Dam About To Burst ?


Degas, Program for an Artistic Soirée, Study 2, 1884
 Has the Above Degas been recovered recently, was it recovered a long time ago but kept top secret, is it in play as a taster to test the water????????????
Art Hostage loves the smell of Gardner art in the morning !!

All sorts of rumours, whispers, allegations and accusations abound.

Set ups, stings, broken promises, false dawns, 2015 is already proving to be a watershed year as the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Gardner Art Heist approaches on March 18th 2015.

Art Hostage may be many things, but reckless is not one of them.
Details to follow......................................

In the meantime here is the latest from the mainstream media, same old spin, not asking the right questions about the Gardner Art Heist

Isabella Stewart Gardner Heist: 25 Years of Theories

The frame marking its empty spot on the wall of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston where Rembrandt’s stolen “Storm” had been displayed.
BOSTON — The hallway in the Brooklyn warehouse was dark, the space cramped. But soon there was a flashlight beam, and I was staring at one of the most sought-after stolen masterpieces in the world: Rembrandt’s “Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”
Or was I?
My tour guide that night in August 1997 was a rogue antiques dealer who had been under surveillance by the F.B.I. for asserting he could secure return of the painting — for a $5 million reward. I was a reporter at The Boston Herald, consumed like many people before me and since with finding the “Storm,” a seascape with Jesus and the Apostles, and 12 other works, including a Vermeer and a Manet, stolen in March 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a cherished institution here.
The theft was big news then and remains so today as it nears its 25th anniversary. The stolen works are valued at $500 million, making the robbery the largest art theft in American history.
Which explains why I found myself in Brooklyn, 200 miles from the scene of the crime, tracking yet another lead. My guide had phoned me suggesting he knew something of the robbery, and he had some street credibility because he was allied with a known two-time Rembrandt thief. He took me into a storage locker and flashed his light on the painting, specifically at the master’s signature, on the bottom right of the work, where it should have been, and abruptly ushered me out.
Rembrandt’s stolen “Storm.” Credit Rembrandt/Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
The entire visit had taken all of two minutes.
Call me Inspector Clouseau — I’ve been called worse in this matter, including a “criminal accomplice” by a noted Harvard law professor — but I felt certain I was feet from the real thing, that the Rembrandt, and perhaps all the stolen art, would soon be home. I wrote a front-page article about the furtive unveiling for The Herald — with a headline that bellowed “We’ve Seen It!” — and stood by for the happy ending.
It never came. Negotiations between investigators and the supposed art-nappers crumbled amid dislike and suspicion. Gardner officials did not dismiss my “viewing” out of hand, but the federal agents in charge back then portrayed me as a dupe. Eighteen years later, I still wonder whether what I saw that night was a masterpiece or a masterly effort to con an eager reporter.
Federal agents today continue to discount my warehouse viewing. (They say they have figured out the identity of my guide, but I promised him anonymity.) Still, the authorities are intrigued by some paint chips I also received in 1997 from people claiming to control the art. I wrote at the time that they were possibly from the Rembrandt, but the F.B.I. quickly announced that tests showed that they bore no relationship to the “Storm.”
A bound museum guard after the robbery. Credit Boston Police Department
In a recent interview, though, F.B.I. officials told me that the chips had been re-examined in 2003 by Hubert von Sonnenburg, a Vermeer expert who was chairman of painting conservation at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (Mr. von Sonnenburg died the next year.)
His tests determined the chips were an exact match for a pigment known as “red lake” that was commonly used by the 17th-century Dutch master and had been used in the stolen Vermeer (“The Concert”). The crackling pattern on the chips was similar to that found on other Vermeers, Mr. von Sonnenburg concluded, according to the authorities.
Perplexed? Me, too.
Such have been the vicissitudes in my coverage of the case for nearly two decades, during which I have gathered hundreds of investigative documents and photos, interviewed scores of criminals and crackpots, and met with dozens of federal and municipal law enforcement officials and museum executives.
Geoff Kelly, the agent overseeing the investigation of the Gardner break-in for the F.B.I., in the museum courtyard. Credit Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times
In 2011, I wrote a book about art theft with the Gardner’s chief of security, Anthony M. Amore. We omitted the Gardner case because Mr. Amore said the hunt had reached a delicate phase.
Four years later, his quarry remains elusive. But it turns out that the assumptions that he and the F.B.I. special agent now overseeing the case, Geoff Kelly, were forming then became their active theory of the heist. The short version: It was the handiwork of a bumbling confederation of Boston gangsters and out-of-state Mafia middlemen, many now long dead.
Admittedly, that is far less startling than other theories floated over the years, which attributed the theft to Vatican operatives, Irish Republican Army militants, Middle Eastern emirs and greedy billionaires. And new deductions pop up all the time, like those in a book due out this month that combines elements of the F.B.I. theory with a few twists.
Before I get into the theories, though, some background: The Gardner museum was created by Isabella Stewart Gardner, a wealthy Boston arts patron who amassed a world-class collection of paintings, sculptures, Asian and European antiquities, and curiosities like letters from Napoleon and Beethoven’s death mask. In 1903 she arranged her 2,500 or so treasures inside a just-finished Venetian-style palazzo that became her home and as well as a museum open to the public. Her memorable fiat was that upon her death (in 1924), not one item could be moved from the spot she had chosen to display it.
Photo
Denuded frames on March 18, 1990. Credit Boston Police Department
But after midnight on March 18, 1990, as St. Patrick’s Day festivities from the day before were winding down, her edict was broken. Two thieves dressed as Boston police officers persuaded a guard to let them in to investigate a “disturbance.” They handcuffed him and another watchman in the basement, duct-taped their wrists and faces and, for 81 minutes, brazenly and clumsily cut two Rembrandts from their frames, smashed glass cases holding other works, and made off with a valuable yet oddball haul.
It included the Rembrandts, Vermeer’s “Concert,” Manet’s “Chez Tortoni,” Degas sketches, a bronze-plated eagle, and a Shang dynasty vase secured to a table by a bulky metal device that by itself probably took 10 minutes to pull apart. Left behind were prizes like a Titian, some Sargents, Raphaels and Whistlers, and, inches from the Degas works, a Pietà sketch by Michelangelo.
Anyone who expected the art to appear rapidly on the black market or to be used for some kind of ransom was disappointed. Instead, there was dead silence. Seven years later, the museum raised its reward to $5 million from $1 million. After a quarter-century, empty frames still mark where the missing “Storm” and other works once were on display.
Early on, investigators focused on Myles J. Connor Jr., a career Massachusetts art thief who, in 1975, had stolen a Rembrandt from the Museum of Fine Arts here and used it to bargain himself out of prison time. Mr. Connor himself came forward in 1997 with an associate, William P. Youngworth III, to say he had planned the Gardner heist. Though he had been in jail when it took place, Mr. Connor insisted it mirrored a scheme he devised in the 1980s. He said he had cased the museum with a fellow thief, telling him he wanted to own the Chinese vase that was so laboriously stolen.
Photo
George A. Reissfelder, seen here in 1982, whose relatives say had one of the stolen paintings on his wall. Credit Mike Grecco/Associated Press
Information from Mr. Connor and Mr. Youngworth ultimately led to my dark trip through that Brooklyn warehouse, and later to the puzzling paint chips. But when Mr. Connor left federal prison in 2005, he failed to produce the paintings and investigators have long ruled him out.
Even easier to dismiss was the notion that the Boston crime boss James (Whitey) Bulger was involved. Mr. Bulger was a predictable target for suspicion because of his decades of involvement in murders, drug running and funneling arms to the I.R.A. But there was nothing to connect him, the authorities say.
In a book due out this month, “Master Thieves,” Stephen Kurkjian, a Boston Globe reporter who has tracked the case as long as I have, says that another lifelong Boston crook, Louis Royce, dreamed up the robbery. Mr. Kurkjian interviewed Mr. Royce and quotes him as saying his criminal associates stole his idea. The investigators say Mr. Royce’s tale is unsupported by the evidence. In his book, Mr. Kurkjian says he provided other information to the investigators including a possible motive for the theft — to exchange the masterpieces for the release from prison of a Boston mob leader.
Anticipating a wave of interest, and possible criticism, on the eve of the robbery’s 25th anniversary, the investigators, Mr. Amore and Mr. Kelly, recently showed me a PowerPoint presentation that detailed their best sense of what happened.
The museum's exterior. Credit Gretchen Ertl for The New York Times
Though the efficacy of their efforts remains unclear, Mr. Amore, who was hired by the Gardner in 2005, and Mr. Kelly, who has his own museum identification badge, have spent a decade sharing tips and chasing leads. In one peculiar instance, they said, they approached the producers of the television show “Monk” in the mid-2000s because a tipster spotted a painting that looked like “The Concert” in the background of a scene. The painting turned out to be only a copy used as a prop.
Mr. Amore and Mr. Kelly’s current theory dates to 1997, when informants told the F.B.I. that they had heard a midlevel mob associate and garage supervisor from Quincy, Mass., Carmello Merlino, talk about trading the stolen art for the $5 million reward.
In 1998, the F.B.I., as part of a sting, arrested Mr. Merlino and some associates on their way to an armored car depot and carrying heavy weapons, including grenades. Investigators said that they promised him leniency if he helped them find the art but that he denied knowing of its whereabouts.

Several years later, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Amore said, informants drew their attention to two associates of Mr. Merlino, George A. Reissfelder and Leonard V. DiMuzio.
Paint chips sent to a reporter. Credit Tom Mashberg
Mr. DiMuzio, who was shot to death in 1991, was a skillful burglar who had long been involved with the Merlino gang. The investigators say that Mr. Reissfelder, who died of an apparent drug overdose the same year, owned a 1986 red Dodge Daytona, the same model of car that several witnesses have said they spotted idling outside the Gardner on the night of the break-in. The two passengers in the Daytona, the witnesses said, were dressed as Boston police officers.
In addition, the investigators said, two members of Mr. Reissfelder’s family have said they saw the Gardner’s stolen Manet on Mr. Reissfelder’s apartment wall three months after the robbery — a brazen act, to be sure. The investigators called it a “confirmed sighting.”
The investigators said they believed there had been a second sighting of one of the stolen items, though I’m sad to say it was not my encounter in the warehouse. A tipster, they said, told them in 2009 that he had seen a work resembling “Storm” in Philadelphia.
Two years ago, at a news conference in Boston aimed a drumming up leads in the case, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Amore outlined this theory but did not identify Mr. Reissfelder or Mr. DiMuzio as suspects. But on his PowerPoint, Mr. Kelly showed me that Mr. Reissfelder and Mr. DiMuzio closely resembled police sketches of the two men who had entered the museum.
Photo
Left, a Gardner curator, Karen Haas, and the director, Anne Hawley, at a news conference the day after the heist. Credit Lisa Bul/Associated Press
Still, those men are now dead. So is Mr. Merlino, who died in prison in 2005, as is Robert Guarente, a reputed Maine mobster suspected of having once harbored some of the art.
Investigators say they are hopeful of locating the trove, even if many of their suspects are now in their graves. They were buoyed, for example, in 2009, when Mr. Guarente’s widow, Elene, told them her husband had turned over some of the stolen art to a reputed Mafia associate, Robert Gentile of Connecticut, in a parking lot in Portland, Me., in 2002.
Investigators searched Mr. Gentile’s home in 2012 and found pistols, ammunition and silencers — but no paintings. Mr. Gentile, who officials say had ties to organized crime figures in Philadelphia, has said he knows nothing about the art.
Mr. Kelly and Mr. Amore say they are convinced that, based on the 2009 sighting and other information, some of the art made its way from Maine to Philadelphia, where it was shopped around.
“The art was seen as too hot, and there were no takers,” Mr. Kelly said.
What happens now? The investigators keep looking.
“Mrs. Gardner would have expected us to battle every day to get back her art,” Mr. Amore said.
Mr. Kelly said he rejected the notion that the art was destroyed by the thieves as soon as they realized they had “unwittingly committed the crime of the century.”
“That rarely happens in art thefts,” Mr. Kelly continued. “Most criminals are savvy enough to know such valuable paintings are their ace in the hole.”

The biggest art heist of all time is still a complete mystery

Security guard Paul Daley stands guard at the door of the Dutch Room following a robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, in this file photo taken March 21,1990.  REUTERS/Jim Bourg/Files
Security guard Paul Daley stands guard at the door of the Dutch Room of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston
BOSTON (Reuters) - A 122-year old Venetian-style palazzo tucked into Boston's marshy Fens section stands as one of the city's more popular tourist attractions and the site of one of its longest-unsolved crimes.
It has been almost 25 years since 13 artworks worth some $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the largest art heist in U.S. history.
The statute of limitations for prosecuting the thieves has long expired but officials at the private museum and the Federal Bureau of Investigation have not given up hope of recovering the missing works, which include including Rembrandt's "Storm on the Sea of Galilee," Vermeer's "The Concert" and Manet's "Chez Tortoni."
The Gardner's remaining collection is sizable, boasting some 2,500 pieces that range from a Roman mosaic of Medusa to ancient Chinese bronzes, reflecting the eclectic tastes of the turn-of-the-century collector from whom it takes its name.
More unusual are the four empty frames that hang in the galleries. They are a quirk of Gardner's will that turned the building she called home in her final years over to the public as a museum after her 1924 death, on the condition that the collection not be changed.
Anthony Amore, the museum's chief of security, described the empty frames as "placeholders, signs of hope" that the missing art would one day be recovered.
"The investigation is very active and very methodical," said Amore, a former Department of Homeland Security official who has spent much of the past decade trying to track down the missing art. "We need those works."
The mystery dates to the rainy night of March 18, 1990, when two men dressed as police officers arrived at the museum's front door and security guards let them in. The pair allegedly overpowered the guards, who were found duct-taped to chairs in the museum's basement the next morning.
There have been glimmers of hope of solving the crime. In March 2013, FBI officials said they had identified the thieves and asked anyone who seen the missing work, which includes etchings and other historic objects, to come forward.
rembrandt_selfportrait_etch
This self-portrait by Rembrandt was one of the 13 stolen works
But a month later Boston law enforcement's attention was refocused on the fatal bombing attack at the Boston Marathon and no artwork has been recovered.
The investigation has taken FBI agents as far afield as Ireland and Japan, but in recent years has been focused on the northeastern and central United States, said Geoff Kelly, the special agent in charge of the case.
"It's like looking for a needle in a haystack," Kelly said. "We've been able to narrow the haystack."

ECCENTRIC PATRON

Gardner's life was as distinctive as her art collection. A native of New York who moved north after marrying businessman Jack Gardner in 1860, she did not comport to the dour standards of the wealthy in 19th century Boston.
Gardner, who had been educated in Paris, served donuts at flamboyant parties and competed with male art collectors for prize pieces. After her first and only child died at the age of 2, the Gardners toured Europe extensively, adding to their collection of art and antiques.
The couple commissioned the building that now houses the museum after their art holdings outgrew their home. The museum opened in 1903, five years after Jack's death.
Her orders that the museum remain unchanged means that, a quarter-century on, the theft is a raw experience for first-time visitors.
"Any other museum would simply paper over the loss and take down the frames and put something else up," said Andrew McClellan, a Tufts University professor specializing in museum history. "At the Gardner, it's a haunting presence that will only ever be healed by the return of the paintings."
Kelly would say little about who the FBI suspects stole the art, other than allude to the Mafia. But he contends the thieves likely were not art connoisseurs, given that they left behind some its most prized pieces, including Titian's "The Rape of Europa."
"These thieves were not sophisticated criminals, as evidenced by the fact that two of the paintings were cut out of their frames," Kelly said. "The significant value of the stolen artwork seems to have elevated the status of the thieves to master criminals but that's a specious assumption."

Possible leads in $500 million Boston museum robbery 25 years later: book

The greatest art heist ever, when $500 million worth of masterpieces disappeared from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990, is still unsolved. But Stephen Kurkjian thinks he may have found the small-time gangster who masterminded the heist, he writes in 'Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist.'




In a 2010 photo, the empty frame from which thieves cut Rembrandt's 'Storm on the Sea of Galilee' remains on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.  
Josh Reynolds/Ap In a 2010 photo, the empty frame from which thieves cut Rembrandt's 'Storm on the Sea of Galilee' remains on display at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.
The greatest art heist of all time remains unsolved, but a new book reveals that a small-time gangster may have masterminded the audacious 1990 robbery that relieved Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of a $500 million haul of masterworks.
The author of “Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist,” Stephen Kurkjian, also points the way to possibly recovering the missing masterpieces 25 years later. Paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer were among the 13 pieces of work stolen.
But Kurkjian, a 40-year veteran of the Boston Globe with three Pulitzer Prizes to his name, reports the FBI doesn’t seem all that interested in what he’s uncovered.
Empty frames still hang in the galleries where Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” and Vermeer’s “The Concert” were on display until the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, when two Boston cops buzzed the security desk at 1:20 a.m. demanding entry.


The 13 pieces were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990.  
CHITOSE SUZUKI/Ap The 13 pieces were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990.


'Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World's Greatest Art Heist' by Stephen Kurkjian is out March 10.  
'Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World's Greatest Art Heist' by Stephen Kurkjian is out March 10.

The guard, Rick Abath, disobeyed strict protocol and let the uniforms in without calling a superior. As the “cops” handcuffed Abath before stowing him and another guard in the basement, the two were informed, “This is a robbery, gentlemen.”
The thieves may have been polite to the guards, but they were brutal to the masterpieces. In 88 minutes they tore through the museum, throwing the paintings to the marbled floor as they sliced the canvasses from the frames. They knew what they liked, but they didn’t know art, snatching a relatively worthless Chinese vase while leaving behind a priceless Michelangelo drawing and the most valuable painting in the museum, Titian’s “Rape of Europa.”
The FBI seized control of the investigation on the grounds that the artwork would be crossing state lines. Shutting local enforcement out was a mistake many felt. In the raging gang wars of the time, both city and state cops had developed reliable informants deep in its criminal underworld.
In fact, one gangster, a player in the East Boston Rossetti gang, Louis Royce, complained to the author that he was still owed 15% for devising the plan. As a poor Southie kid, he loved the museum so much he would hide away there overnight. As a grownup gangster in the early ’80s, knowing how lax security was, he cased the Gardner with the intention of breaking in.


'A Lady and Gentleman in Black' by Rembrandt was also taken.
A visitor to the museum looks at the empty frame that held Rembrandt's 'A Lady and Gentleman in Black.'
'A Lady and Gentleman in Black' by Rembrandt was also taken. Right, a visitor looks at its empty frame.

In gangland, it had become common to use stolen art works of value to bargain for the prison release of a “family” member or a plea deal. While Royce never got to rob the Gardner — he went to prison for another crime — he was instrumental in formulating a scenario where two “cops” show up late at night and order the door open.
The playbook had been written.
Over the years, tantalizing leads would surface. In 1994, museum director Anne Hawley opened a letter that promised the return of the 13 pieces for $2.6 million. If the museum was interested, the Boston Globe had to feature a prominent numeral one in a business story. The paper did so, but the letter writer disappeared after he learned a massive alert had gone out to law enforcement.


Vincent Ferrara (right) was rumored to be connected to the heist.  
CHITOSE SUZUKI/Ap Vincent Ferrara (right) was rumored to be connected to the heist.

In 1997, William Youngworth, a career criminal and associate of the master art thief, Myles Connor Jr., took Boston Herald reporter Tom Mashberg on a long ride to a warehouse in Red Hook, where he produced a painting that looked a lot like Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” Whether or not the painting was authentic remains in question. What’s conclusive is that the FBI finally quit talking to Youngsworth when they got nowhere.
Hawley was so desperate she reached out to the Vatican to ask Pope John Paul II to issue a papal appeal. She also approached William Bulger, president of the state Senate, asking that he chat up his brother Whitey to see what he knew.
The notorious gangster was fruitlessly chasing leads himself. The heist had happened in his territory and he figured he was owed tribute.


Reputed New England Mafia leader Francis P. (Cadillac Frank) Salemme is seen after his arrest Aug. 11, 1995.
A June 23, 2011 booking photo shows James (Whitey) Bulger, captured after 16 years on the run.
Reputed New England Mafia leader Francis P. (Cadillac Frank) Salemme (left) and James (Whitey) Bulger could also be connected.


William P. Youngworth III is arraigned in Worcester, Mass., Sept. 5, 1997. Youngworth claims he can lead the FBI to the stolen artwork.  
PAULA B. FERAZZI/Ap William P. Youngworth III is arraigned in Worcester, Mass., Sept. 5, 1997. Youngworth claims he can lead the FBI to the stolen artwork.

Two decades passed, and even with a $5 million reward, never mind the tremendous criminal bargaining power attached to the return of the paintings, no one anted up.
In March 2013, the FBI held what was considered a bombshell press conference. Richard S. DesLauriers, the head of Boston’s FBI, announced they knew with certainty that the art had traveled to Connecticut and the Philadelphia area. There was, the author notes, a troubling lack of detail.
The FBI didn’t name names. Catching the thieves wasn’t the point any longer. The statute of limitations had expired, and getting the art back was now the game.
The FBI had seen the value of crowdsourcing after a tip led to the arrest of Whitey Bulger. This was essentially an appeal to the public to check their attics, or their neighbors’ walls, for a Rembrandt.
Those in the know quickly pieced together the FBI scenario for the heist. Its investigation fingered key members of Frank (Cadillac Frank) Salemme’s gang that the Rossettis owed allegiance to. While Kurkjian doesn’t dismiss the feds’ version out of hand, he makes quick work of its many holes.


Rembrandt’s 'Storm on the Sea of Galilee' is one of the masterworks stolen. Rembrandt’s 'Storm on the Sea of Galilee' is one of the masterworks stolen. 
NO SALES. PHOTO RELEASED BY THE ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER MUSEUM AP PROVIDES ACCESS TO THIS PUBLICLY DISTRIBUTED HANDOUT PHOTO TO BE USED ONLY TO ILLUSTRATE NEWS REPORTING OR COMMENTARY ON THE FACTS OR EVENTS DEPICTED IN THIS IMAGE ** ZU UNSEREM KORR. **  The thieves also took 'The Concert' by Vermeer. 

Meanwhile, Kurkjian, whose reporting helped solve two previous art thefts, took a “deep dive into the inner works of Boston’s notorious underworld and gained the trust of some of its most flamboyant and pivotal figures.” It was a netherworld the FBI hadn’t been able to penetrate.
Vincent Ferrara was in the top echelon of a mob faction warring with Salemme for control of the New England underworld. But in 1992, Ferraro went to prison for 20 years on a murder rap that would later be overturned.
When his wheelman, Bobby Donati, visited shortly after he’d been locked up, the future looked long and grim.


Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum curator Karen Haas (left) and museum director Anne Hawley are seen at a news conference on March 19, 1990, the day after the heist. 
 LISA BUL/Ap Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum curator Karen Haas (left) and museum director Anne Hawley are seen at a news conference on March 19, 1990, the day after the heist.

A secret informant told Kurkjian the details of that visit.
“I can’t let you stay here,” Donati told Ferrara. “I’m going to get you out of here.”
Donati toured the museum several times in the company of the master art thief Connor. Shortly before the robbery, he also showed up at a social club, The Shack, carrying a large paper bag that ripped open, and police uniforms fell out.
“Was that you?” Ferrara demanded to know when Donati visited him again after the robbery.
“I told you I was going to do it. Now I got to find a way to begin negotiating to get you out.” He reassured Ferrara he had “buried the stuff.”
Donati was murdered in 1991, a possible victim in the ongoing gang wars.
Kurkjian turned his info over to the FBI, and with the informant’s permission, passed his phone number to the Gardner’s head of security. No contact was made, and the feds made a show of dismissing the new lead.


NO SALES. UNDATED FILE PHOTO RELEASED BY THE ISABELLA STEWART GARDNER MUSEUM AP PROVIDES ACCESS TO THIS PUBLICLY DISTRIBUTED HANDOUT PHOTO TO BE USED ONLY TO ILLUSTRATE NEWS REPORTING OR COMMENTARY ON THE FACTS OR EVENTS DEPICTED IN THIS IMAGE. 
'Chez Tortoni' by Manet was stolen.

Kurkjian’s sleuthing then brought him around to another low-level hood, Robert Gentile, the man the FBI believed had possession of at least some of the paintings. After nailing Gentile on a drug charge, they raided his home in Manchester, Conn., finding a false-bottom floor in the shed that hid a large container. It was frustratingly empty.
At one moment, Kurkjian felt Gentile was close to making an admission to him before abruptly dismissing the possibility of saying more. “The feds set me up and ruined my life,” he said flatly.
Kurkjian contacted his informant to ask if Ferrara would meet with Gentile to assure him that if he produced the artwork neither he nor his family would suffer retribution. The informant was willing, but pointed out that only a judge acting on an FBI request could allow a recently released federal prisoner like Ferrara to meet with anyone convicted of a federal offense.
“Despite what felt like the biggest break in the Gardner case yet, arranging a meeting between Ferrara and Gentile was not something I could accomplish,” Kurkjian writes.
It was up to the FBI.
So far, nothing.
 

Director of Gardner Museum to Step Down

Anne Hawley, who has led the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston for 25 years and oversaw an expansion that opened in 2012, more than doubling the museum’s footprint and increasing attendance, announced Wednesday that she planned to step down at the end of the year.
Ms. Hawley was appointed in 1989, only a few months before one of the most famous art heists in history occurred at the museum. In March 1990, two thieves disguised as police officers made off with 13 works, among them a Vermeer and a Rembrandt, a robbery that – despite some leads – remains unsolved as its 25th anniversary approaches.
During Ms. Hawley’s tenure, the museum – which was beloved but seen as something of a dusty relic – has become known for its historical and contemporary exhibitions and its educational outreach, as well as its music and horticultural programs. The $114 million expansion, designed by Renzo Piano, was opposed by some Bostonians, who believed it contravened the wishes of the institution’s founder to keep the Gardner preserved largely as it was at her death in 1924. But a 2009 state court ruling allowed the museum to deviate from Gardner’s will to create the addition. The demolition of a carriage house on the property, to make way for the expansion, was carried out over the protests of preservationists.
In an interview Wednesday, Ms. Hawley, 71, said that the museum had been founded “as a total work of art in itself” and that her goal as director was to “to bring back the dynamic life that its founder had made when she built this place.” After recently completing a $180 million fund-raising campaign for the expansion and the museum’s endowment, Ms. Hawley said she felt it was an appropriate time for new leadership. The museum has formed a committee to find a successor.
“It’s really surprising to me that I’ve stayed so long,” she said. “It’s just the right time for me to step aside when I feel that everything is fantastic and I’m at the top of my game.” She added that she had no desire to run another museum, but wanted to “be able to focus on projects and to study and just to have time.”

Walter Liedtke, Curator at Metropolitan Museum of Art, Dies at 69






Walter Liedtke, left, discussing Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid” with Princess Máxima and Prince Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2009. Credit Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

Walter Liedtke, who served for 35 years as a curator of European paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and was a renowned scholar on Vermeer and the Delft School, died on Tuesday, one of six victims of the crash of a Metro-North commuter train in Valhalla, N.Y. He was 69.
His death was confirmed by the Met’s director, Thomas P. Campbell, who said in an interview that “he was one of our most esteemed curators and one of the most distinguished scholars of Dutch and Flemish painting in the world.”
Mr. Liedtke, who lived in Bedford Hills, N.Y., and was raised in New Jersey, intended to be a teacher, and after earning his master’s degree at Brown and a doctorate at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, he spent four years on the faculty at Ohio State. But in 1979 he received a Mellon Fellowship to study at the Metropolitan Museum, and he never left it.




The next year he became a curator and began producing a procession of well-regarded exhibitions and books over the decades, including “Rembrandt/Not Rembrandt in The Metropolitan Museum of Art” in 1995 and 1996; “Vermeer and the Delft School” in 2001, and “The Age of Rembrandt” in 2007.
His catalog of Flemish paintings in the Met’s collection was published in 1984, and a comprehensive catalog of the museum’s Dutch paintings, presented over more than a thousand pages, was published in 2007.
Arthur K. Wheelock Jr., curator of Northern Baroque paintings at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, who knew and sometimes jousted curatorially with Mr. Liedtke for three decades, said that while Mr. Liedtke was a natural writer, “he really liked to lecture.”
“He had a wonderful way with words and engaged people through those unexpected approaches in language,” Mr. Wheelock said. “He had strong opinions about things, and he was not shy about expressing those opinions.”
Mr. Liedtke and his wife, Nancy, a math teacher, who is his only immediate survivor, raised horses, a passion that Mr. Liedtke brought to his scholarly life as well. His book “The Royal Horse and Rider: Painting, Sculpture and Horsemanship 1500-1800” was published in 1990.
“I think there is something Dutch about the way I live,” he said in a personal reflection that he recorded for the Met’s website. “To go home every day from the Upper East Side of Manhattan to the countryside is a really nice contrast.”
He added: “At the essential level, I think what’s the most Dutch about it is this constant return to immediate experience. I get up, I go to the barn, I clean the horse stalls at 6:30 in the morning.”
Mr. Campbell said that Mr. Liedtke frequently caught the train that he took on Tuesday and that he liked to ride in the first car because it was sometimes the designated quiet car, where he could read and work.
While Mr. Liedtke loved the life of the country, Mr. Campbell added, “he was one of our great characters, always immaculately turned out in his suits, and he was very much an Old World connoisseur who trained in very profound study of the object.”
In a short online discussion recorded in 2013 about Rembrandt’s “Aristotle With a Bust of Homer” (1653), Mr. Liedtke marveled at how an artist could so movingly capture the kind of existential moment the painting shows, as Aristotle, dressed like a pasha, looks at a representation of Homer and wonders whether history will remember him as well.
“The central problem of Western civilization,” Mr. Liedtke said, “is reduced to one guy who’s got to puzzle it out for himself.”
Of the meaning of the painting, which was one of his favorites, he added: “I sort of got it in my gut or my heart.”

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Heist, Alex Boyle Names Actual Thieves, Robert Wittman, The French Connection

William Merlino
David Turner

The Gardner Museum Art Thieves, Unmasked at Last?

By | August 2014
March 18, 1990, saw the biggest museum heist take place in American history as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston was robbed by thieves dressed up as police officers. Since that time numerous stories have surfaced with the result being the same—nothing found, nothing recovered, and a museum, still bound by deed of gift, hangs empty frames on the wall where once hung masterpieces by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Manet, and Degas.
In the year 2001 this writer was handed an extraordinary letter from a confidential FBI informant outlining how the job was done, who the “players” were, and how the paintings were spirited overseas, first to Italy then France where they were sold via the connivance of a New York dealer for upward of $25 million.
One small problem: Despite this writer being flown abroad in February 2005 in the company of the FBI to meet the French National Police on the Isle de France in Paris—nothing was found. Noted FBI Agent Robert Wittman gave his best efforts on his trips to France in 2006 and 2007. He came close, but again, aside from Corsican mobster innuendo, nothing was found.
In 2013 this writer started to write the outline of a TV series on the project, then tentatively titled “Raiders of the Lost Art,” and the first item on the agenda was revisiting the Gardner Heist. The joy of a complete reboot is that one can go in the past and start over how one looks at a story, which helps because the original story development was so convoluted by wise guys seeking to cover their tracks, that a writer in the center of this story might be forgiven for getting vertigo or the spins.
Two names from the start remained of interest, and while the paintings were long since gone, getting a lock on the guys who did the job might help get closure for Boston, and put the story back on the right track, and hopefully confirm what the informant stated in 2001.
But the FBI refused to help when a Freedom Of Information Act request was put in for one William Merlino. This would take some doing to get around.
In 2008 a friendly writer named Ulrich Boser sent me the first photo of the other suspect, David Allen Turner, and that really matched the initial police sketch. It would take another five plus years for the William Merlino photo to show up. As the reader can now see, it was worth the wait.
Who are these guys and where are they now? William Merlino is 53 years of age and serving out the remained of an armored car conspiracy case in Lee Federal Prison, Pennington Gap, Va. According to Federal prison records, he is due to get out on Aug. 6, 2025.
His cohort, David Allen Turner is now 47 year of age in Danbury Federal Correctional Institute in Danbury, Conn. and he is scheduled for release on March 25, 2025. William Merlino’s uncle, Carmello, supposedly the “made guy” in the family, and the link that could have confirmed the organized crime connection to this story, died in federal prison on Dec. 7, 2005.
All three were sent away for lengthy prison stints from an arrest made in 1998 for a job they never got a chance to pull off, but conspiracy remains a valid charge in federal courts.

Money Trail


Assuming the photos of Merlino and Turner match the Gardner Heist suspects, this corroborates the story heard years ago, that William Merlino was behind the heist. In underworld structure of the Boston, William was affiliated with uncle Carmello Merlino, a known La Cosa Nostra member. Carmello Merlino was known to be in a crew under former boss of the Boston Mob, Francis P. “Cadillac Frank” Salemme. 
Now when a crew in La Cosa Nostra (LNC) does a score, they have to kick upstairs to the boss, or else they get clipped, and along those lines the story provided to this writer in 2001 it implicated Francis P. “Cadillac Frank” Salemme and his brother Jackie Salemme. That too followed the respected pattern of doing business. There would be a problem if the Merlinos went off the LCN reservation.
A sideways development in this convoluted story was that somebody in the Department of Justice put Francis P. “Cadillac Frank” Salemme in the federal witness protection program, presumably in exchange for Salemme agreeing to testify in court against his Boston enemies Stephen Flemmi and James “Whitey” Bulger. It all goes to show that local problems with law enforcement, compounded by strategic errors made in the Justice Department contributed to the perfect storm that enabled the heist to become the perfect crime.
So many distracting elements kick in to convolute the Gardner Heist story that it is best to keep it simple. Look at the photos. Do they match? If so one has to ask why was this buried for so long? Even though much of the insider story had been heard, the evolution of the official story raises even more disturbing questions. If Merlino et al worked for Salemme, why was Salemme given immunity and put into witness protection? That is just the tip of the iceberg, but it illustrates the problems inherent to this case.
Alexander Boyle is a graduate of Trinity College, Hartford, Conn., where he majored in history. He has worked for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, PBS, galleries, and an auction house as well as having published articles on 19th and 20th century American painting. This article was originally published in AAD, art-antiques-design.com
Art Hostage Comments:
Alex Boyle has been consistent over the years in his theories about the Gardner Art Heist.
Alex Boyle said that after the Gardner Art Heist there was a "Sit down" at Friar Tucks where the deal for the Gardner art was struck for an alleged $25 million.
From there the art was moved via Halifax Nova Scotia to Genoa by New York Art Dealer & Sexual deviant Andrew Crespo.
From Genoa the Vermeer and possibly Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea was sold to none other than Hans Henrik (Hans Heinrich "Heini") Ágost Gábor Tasso Thyssen-Bornemisza de Kászon who hung the Vermeer at his Swiss villa until his death in 2002.
After Heini died his widow Carman passed the Vermeer and possibly the Rembrandt to Jean Marie Messier the French financier, via the Art Dealer Simon De Pury.
Alex Boyle led FBI Agents to Paris to search the home of Jean Marie Messier back in 2005 to look for the Vermeer etc but sadly the French authorities did not co-operate with the FBI but did make a search of the Jean Marie Messier Paris mansion and found some stolen fresco's looted from Italy and recovered them.
According to ex-FBI Agent Robert Wittman the Corsican Mafia have possession of at least some of the Gardner art and he was trying to smoke them out before he retired, but was thwarted by in-fighting at the FBI and a distinct lack of etiquette by the then Boston FBI Head Richard Des Lauriers towards the French authorities.

Robert Wittman said in an interview with the Huff Post:
The Gardner Heist
Two events that erupted in 1990 forever changed Wittman's, and America's, outlook regarding art crime. The former was a dreadful, painstaking experience. The latter was a pivotal moment in how art crime would be viewed by law enforcement, the media and the American public.
A car accident with Robert Wittman at the wheel in a South Jersey suburb would take the life of his friend and FBI Special Agent Denis Bozella. As if his four broken ribs, the guilt, grief and loss of his friend weren't enough, a prosecutor went through with a case he knew he would lose in court. The ordeal by trial, drawn out over five years for Wittman to clear his name, became the impetus to dedicate his career in solving art crime, which is what he considers to be crimes against society, history and the heritages of people.
A decade later, it would also place the agent in an even more special role, as he became the FBI's pointman in dealing with grief victims, primarily families suffering traumatic loss in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. At the time, that was hard on Wittman, the person, but it became valuable when he would begin to investigate and solve international art crime cases and go undercover as "Bob Clay," art broker and financier. The grief counseling -- "All I had to offer was empathy" -- and his own loss allowed him to see the other side of the good, bad and ugly in people, and put him in the perps' shoes and minds of master thieves.
On March 18, 1990, two robbers dressed as Boston Police gained access to the locked down Gardner Museum with a fake bench warrant. They duct-taped two young guards in the cellar and then spent an astounding 81 minutes rifling through the museum. They cut out ten priceless paintings -- a Vermeer, five Degas and three Rembrandts -- and three lesser art objects that included a gilded Corsican eagle finial and a Napoleonic War banner. The latter two were no "red herrings," but a clue to law enforcement as to where the stolen bounty would end up: in the organized crime orbit of Corsica, France and Spain.
With little to go on except police sketches and the data from the motion-detecting cameras, the trail went cold, fast. On the 23rd anniversary of the greatest art crime in history -- valued at 500 million -- the FBI's Boston Office (not the Art Crime Team) held a press conference, announcing the reward for the recovery of the stolen art was 5 million, and that they had fresh leads on the case "in Philadelphia and Connecticut."
Wittman said point blank: "It's definitely not in Philadelphia."
That press conference wasn't anything more than a reminder to the public on the reward and that that the famous case remained unsolved. It also served as a smoke screen, as those paintings are clearly in Europe -- with Wittman confirming: "We know who they were with, based on the French police wiretaps of the criminals I dealt with."
That was 2006 to 2008. Or two years that Wittman as Bob Clay went undercover in a sting operation that can be found in detail in his New York Times bestselling book Priceless: How I went Undercover to Rescue the World's Stolen Treasures (Random House/Broadway Books).
Unfortunately, human nature intervened. "Too many chiefs," the French Police pointman told Wittman. "Solving the case by committee doesn't work," Wittman later wrote.
Like the failed launch of the Obamacare website, throwing more people to fix a poorly designed platform doesn't work. Same with an undercover sting operation. The sting teams need to operate small to allow for "flexibility, creativity and to take risk," he stated in Priceless.
The human side to the promising undercover operation-turned-debacle was the FBI turf war, infighting with the Boston Office -- they knew nothing about art -- the Art Crime Team and the bureaucrats in FBI headquarters in D.C.
The same problem emerged in France. The French split their police groups in two with a new undercover unit called SIAT, producing evermore "chiefs."
All of those competing factions, instead of working in harmony, wanted to micromanage aspects of the case, while clamoring to take credit for solving the biggest art theft case in history in a press conference that would never materialize.
Robert Wittman's investigation into the Gardner Heist led him to the south of France by the way of Miami. "Although we didn't solve the Gardner case," Wittman said, "we did recover four valuable paintings stolen from the Nice Museum."

Turbo Paul: Art Thief Turned Art Crime Ombudsman

  rembrandt
• August 22, 2014 • 10:00 AM
There’s art theft, there’s law enforcement, and, somewhere in between, there’s Turbo Paul.
I stumbled across Turbo Paul Hendry M.A., above, somewhere in the gray areas of the Internet. He runs Art Hostage and Stolen Vermeer, two happily abrasive sites dedicated to speaking the truth about art thefts around the world. The proprietor, a former “knocker” himself, sees his position as an advocate and a go-between, providing the true story behind the investigations to recover stolen art. “Maybe I’m just a sucker for Dickens and silver-tongued nutters,” Virginia Heffernan wrote about Hendry a few years ago, “but it’s people like Turbo Paul who, to me, exemplify the possibilities of the open Web.” We spoke over instant messenger, which is how he prefers to communicate.
Why start Art Hostage? Was/is the goal to be an informational source, to drum up work for yourself, or something else?
I saw the reporting of art crime by the MSM [mainstream media] in a way like yellow journalism so I wanted to tell it like it is. I agree I can be toxic, but I am at least even-handed with my toxic views about the criminals and those who pursue stolen art. A paradox is sometimes the so-called good guys act like foxes guarding the hen house. When it comes to negotiating the recovery of stolen art, the bad guys want to deal and tell the truth, the so-called good guys lie and prevaricate to avoid any payments, even if those who provide vital information have nothing to do with the theft or subsequent handling of the said stolen artworks.
Do you see yourself as a middleman? You’re open about your past as a “knocker,” which I would imagine establishes some level of credibility with the so-called bad guys.
Noah, we live in a propaganda-filled world and sadly, journalists have to temper their articles a bit because of fear of being blackballed if they reveal too much truth.
I don’t set people up and do act as a middleman for stolen art when all other avenues have been exhausted. Kinda like The Equalizer for stolen art so to speak.
I like that. How many cases have you been directly involved with? Can you give me an example of one?

“It must be said, however, I am not all bad, as I do advise law enforcement on how to prevent art theft and act as a conduit between law enforcement and the underworld. But being an honest broker means I cannot sting people, otherwise I would lose 30 years of trust built up.”

I have been involved in too many cases to mention but the Da Vinci Madonna case is a fascinating case I was directly involved in. Also, I have consulted in most high-profile cases in recent years. My best work is done when I dance in the shadows and allow others to claim the limelight.
Very little stolen art is recovered these days, and I do get offers of stolen art every day but, sadly, law enforcement won’t allow many deals to happen, so I walk away and tell my contacts to walk away.
Does the visibility your site has gained surprise you?
Not really, because there are only a handful of art crime experts in the world, say six or seven, and I am the only one with the background of being a former trafficker.
Also, being a character and being able to articulate myself helps get over my message as the other experts are ex-law enforcement, insurance loss adjusters, etc., and they are one-dimensional and wooden.
My academic chops, having an M.A., B.A., Hons, etc. helps me and gives me some credibility, but I retain my street cred because I don’t do stings and set people up. Think about it: Where can you read about art crime other than the usual spin in the MSM? I am the only alternative who shoots from the lip.
That’s fair. How has what you do changed in the seven years you’ve had the site? Also, were you doing the same type of work before you started the site?
I got to the top of the stolen art world and retired. I then went to university, rather than play golf or go fishing. In the seven years since I started the site the amount of stings and recoveries has been reduced markedly. People with information have grown wise to the old stings and double-dealings of insurance loss adjusters, etc. so the flow of information has dried up for those investigating art-related crime. However, the dumb crooks still fall for the ruses of ex-law enforcement art crime investigators and loss adjusters, but most seek my council first.
It must be said, however, I am not all bad, as I do advise law enforcement on how to prevent art theft and act as a conduit between law enforcement and the underworld. But being an honest broker means I cannot sting people, otherwise I would lose 30 years of trust built up.
Look, when I comment that a case might be a set up or rewards are bullshit, I am not revealing a secret as most criminals can research the past cases of stings, although they may be referenced on my site.
Before the Internet, law enforcement and insurance agents could use and abuse informants and threaten them with exposure. All of this would happen in secret. Nowadays, the Internet provides a database of previous cases where stings have happened so less recoveries and less information is passed through.
The Gardner case proves the point of credibility. Every time anyone has stepped forward they have been hounded and threatened and even jailed to try and lever them to reveal all. The underworld firmly believes the Gardner museum reward offer of $5 million is bullshit. Think about it: The offer is for all the Gardner art back in good condition, even though when stolen back in 1990 it was cut from the frames therefore it is impossible to be in good condition, another get out clause to prevent payment of the reward. The immunity offer has conditions: Anyone offering help loses their right to take the Fifth and has to reveal all and be prepared to testify against those who have the Gardner art. Therefore, anyone with knowledge stays quiet.
The $5 million Gardner reward offer was made back in 1997 and not raised since so raising it may help?
If authorities really wanted just the Gardner art back, they would offer pure immunity for help and the reward would not have any conditions. So, until then we have to hope the Gardner art is found by authorities stumbling upon it, perhaps during another investigation, but that has been the hope for over two decades.
How can you help get it back?
When I say pure immunity I mean immunity only regarding the Gardner case, not any other cases, etc.
Give me a real immunity deal and concrete proof the reward will be paid, then I could help. I have stated many times I seek not one dime of the reward, but if I could guarantee the reward would be paid and immunity offered to those who could help, then the Gardner art would come home. I also said the Gardner art should be left in a Catholic church confession box to prevent a sting and that would be a kind of absolution for the art. The deal in place would need to be legally watertight so the post-recovery reward would be paid. Again, I seek none of the reward.
Where is the so-called reward? All we have is cheap talk. Why not put the Gardner reward in an escrow account? Why not announce the immunity is blanket and those stepping forward do not have to reveal anything other than the location of the art and then collect the reward. Of course, whomever stepped forward would have to stand the scrutiny of not being involved in the Gardner theft or handling of the art, but I am sure someone could be appointed to take point. But up until now anyone stepping forward gets hounded.
You see the MSM never ask these questions about the Gardner art, just make bullshit repeating the spin about reward and immunity.
What would it take for that to change?
I must say if law enforcement does not want the reward to be paid and want arrests, fine. But don’t try to bullshit all the time.
Each case is different. It depends on what gets stolen and if the desire to recover it overrides the desire to make arrests, then deals can be made. Case in point: the Turners stolen in Germany, which were on loan from the Tate gallery U.K. This is a classic buy back. By the way, buy backs are not illegal, go check. It is not illegal for a victim or an insurance company to buy back stolen art. They try to spin that line, “it’s illegal,” but in reality buy backs are perfectly legal.
Noah, you know the MSM play the game, and in a post-9/11 world, the MSM are terrified to really conduct investigative journalism. Step out of the MSM line and your career is over.
I agree with some of that, but also I think stolen art is pretty low on the priority list of most MSM organizations.
I am not saying rewards or fees should be paid all the time and encourage art theft, but art theft happens because thieves can and will continue regardless. But if someone has information that helps recover stolen art, then they should be paid. Information is a salable commodity but sadly authorities expect it for free.
What does that have to do with MSM and investigative journalism?
I agree with you and much reporting on art crime is one of lazy journalism, therefore just trot out the usual spin under a banner headline. Take the Jeffrey Gundlach case in L.A. He offered a huge reward and got his art back within weeks, and the informant got paid.
Why has the MSM not questioned the Gardner case more? Why not seek answers to the immunity offer and reward offer to smoke out the truth. Then perhaps by firming up both immunity and reward offers people may believe it and come forward?
I see your point. I thought it was interesting that you used Google for everything. Do you trust them with your information despite the sensitive nature of some of it?
Noah, Google guys are great. They provide me with their security so hackers cannot disrupt my site like they may be able to do with an independent site. To hack my blog, hackers would need to bypass Google security and being in California I get the benefit of freedom of speech, so I can be toxic.
I mean less about hackers and more about Google themselves. They have shown in the past that they will work with law enforcement to turn over emails, etc. I’m not saying you’re doing anything illegal—I don’t think you are at all—but I can imagine a situation in which you might have some information like that which someone sends you.
I love Google, America, and of course Israel.
You can say, however, I am even-handed with my toxic viewpoints.
I am a thorn in the side of crooks and law enforcement, as well as the insurance industry. I say what journalists would love to say, I do not have the burden of office.