Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Museum Heist, Shoot Straight, Recover The Art !!


Gardner suspect’s sentence was cut

 David A. Turner
The government secretly reduced the prison term of a longtime suspect in the 1990 robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum several years ago, raising questions about whether he agreed to help authorities recover the $500 million worth of stolen masterworks.
David Turner, who was sentenced to 38 years in prison for the 1999 attempted robbery of an Easton armored car company and not scheduled for release until at least 2032, is now expected to be freed in 2025, according to the US Bureau of Prisons website.
The US attorney’s office, the FBI, and Turner’s lawyer, Robert Goldstein, declined to comment on why, or even when, seven years were shaved off Turner’s sentence.
It’s unclear whether the 48-year-old Braintree native, who emerged as a suspect in the Gardner heist in the early 1990s, provided any information to authorities in exchange for leniency.

However, Turner’s possible involvement in the ongoing investigation surfaced recently during federal court proceedings in Hartford involving Robert Gentile, a Connecticut mobster who is awaiting trial on gun charges and is suspected by the FBI of having access to the stolen paintings.
In late 2010, Turner wrote a letter from prison to Gentile instructing him to call Turner’s girlfriend. She then asked Gentile to meet with two of Turner’s associates about recovering the stolen artwork, according to Gentile’s lawyer.
Gentile, who was cooperating with the FBI at the time, refused to meet with the pair and introduce them to an FBI informant because of fear for his safety, according to court filings.
A federal prosecutor disclosed last week in court that Gentile and his friend Robert Guarente, who died in 2004, unsuccessfully tried to negotiate the return of two stolen Gardner paintings in exchange for a sentence reduction for one of Guarente’s associates. The associate, who was not named in court, was Turner, according to two people familiar with the incident.
When told of Turner’s sentence reduction, Gentile’s lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, said in an interview, “I think it means that he was cooperating with the federal government in trying to aid them in gleaning information as to the whereabouts of the paintings.”
He added that an inmate would generally have to provide significant cooperation to get seven years knocked off a very long sentence.
“Obviously, whatever [Turner] was offering didn’t pan out because we’re in 2016 and we still don’t know where the paintings are,” McGuigan said.
In 2013, the FBI announced it was confident it had identified the thieves, but declined to name them, citing the ongoing investigation. Authorities said they believed some of the artwork changed hands through organized crime circles, and moved from Boston to Connecticut and then to Philadelphia, where the trail went cold. Later, the FBI said it believed the two thieves were dead.
Turner is being held at the federal prison in Devens and could not be reached for comment. However, in a 2013 e-mail to a Globe reporter he wrote, “1st and foremost I have not, nor ever will cooperate with authorities.”
In response to a request for an interview about his possible knowledge of the whereabouts of the Gardner paintings, Turner wrote that he distrusted reporters and added, “I am not a treasure hunter.”
The Gardner heist was the largest art theft in history and remains one of Boston’s most baffling mysteries. Two men dressed like police officers talked their way into the museum in the early morning of March 18, 1990, tied up two guards, and fled with 13 pieces of art.
The pieces, which include works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, and Flinck, have never been recovered, despite a $5 million reward for information leading to their safe return and promises of immunity.
After Turner was arrested in 1999 in the attempted armored car company robbery, along with Carmello Merlino, Stephen Rossetti, and William Merlino, Turner claimed the FBI told him that it suspected he and Merlino were involved in the Gardner theft and offered to let him “walk” if he helped retrieve the stolen artwork.
Merlino, a Dorchester auto repair shop owner with mob ties, was targeted by the FBI in 1997 after he boasted to two informants that he planned to recover the art and collect the reward. He was convicted along with Turner and died in prison in 2005.
Turner, who was also a suspect in three homicides, insisted at the time of his arrest that he wasn’t involved in the heist and did not know the whereabouts of the art. He was convicted in 2001 of attempting to rob the armored car facility and a variety of other charges, including carrying a hand grenade.
US District Judge Richard G. Stearns sentenced Turner to 38 years and four months in 2003. He rejected Turner’s claim that the FBI used informants to concoct the robbery plot to entrap Turner and Merlino and force their cooperation in the Gardner investigation. The judge rejected an additional request by Turner to dismiss his conviction in 2009.
There are no details about Turner’s sentence reduction on his criminal case docket in federal court in Boston, indicating that records relating to the reduction are sealed. A flurry of sealed documents were filed in Turner’s case in July 2011.
The only public record of Turner’s reduced sentence is the Bureau of Prisons website, which adjusted Turner’s release date sometime between 2010 and 2013.
A spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons said he couldn’t provide information about the change in Turner’s release date, but said any significant reduction in an inmate’s sentence could be ordered only by the sentencing judge.
Significant sentence reductions are “relatively rare,” said Ed Ross, the agency spokesman, and can occur for statutory reasons such as the prisoner has attended a residential drug treatment program, is deserving of “compassionate” treatment, or that the prisoner has assisted investigators seeking to solve a crime.
Milton Valencia of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelley-murph. Kurkjian can be reached at Stephenkurkjian@gmail.com.

Here’s Why the FBI’s Gardner Museum Investigation Focused on Robert Gentile

The Hartford Courant conducted interviews with a Gentile associate who acted as an informant in a failed sting operation.

The 13 works of art taken from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990 have been missing for more than two decades now, and for the past few years, the FBI’s investigation has been largely focused on one man—Robert Gentile.
A story published this week in the Hartford Courant, based on interviews with a Gentile associate who was enlisted by the FBI for a sting operation offers new details as to why authorities have continued to pursue the Connecticut mobster in connection to the missing museum works.
Sebastian “Sammy” Mozzicato was enlisted for the sting, executed in 2014, alongside his cousin and fellow Gentile associate Ronnie Bowes. Mozzicato’s account in the Courant, corroborated by sources close to the investigation, claims that Gentile has had access to the missing art since the late 1990s.
Gentile was first implicated in the Gardner investigation in 2010, based on a claim from the widow of Robert Guarante, a Boston mobster whose Maine farmhouse authorities had scoured in search of the missing artworks. The widow, Elene Guarante, told investigators that her husband had two of the paintings in his possession, but had passed them on to Gentile after a meeting in Portland, Maine.
The Courant reveals that Mozzicato told the FBI that in the late 1990s, he had been assigned to move a package of what he thinks were paintings between cars parked outside a condo in Waltham used by Gentile, Guarante, and other members of their gang, a Boston sector of the Philadelphia Mafia. He said that Gentile and Guarante then drove up to Maine.
Among other things, Mozzicato also told the FBI that he heard Gentile and Guarante discussing whether or not to give “a painting” as “tribute” to one of their mob bosses in Philadelphia and that Gentile once gave him photographs of five stolen paintings and instructed him to recruit a buyer.
Additionally, Mozzicato also revealed that he and Bowes had on numerous occasions seen what he believes is the gilded eagle that was stolen from the Gardner, which served as a finial for a Napoleonic flagstaff. He said he saw the object on a shelf at the used car business Gentile used to own in South Windsor, Connecticut, and that he thinks Gentile sold it at some point. Currently, the Gardner is offering a $100,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the item, separate from the overall $5 million reward.
The sting, which is recounted in detail in the Courant ultimately failed, with Gentile growing suspicious. He was arrested again in March 2015 and is currently awaiting trial on a weapons charge. While the FBI has given him another opportunity to forgo a long prison sentence in exchange for information about the art, Gentile maintains that he knows nothing.

Prosecutors Reveal More Evidence They Say Ties Robert Gentile To Gardner Museum Robbery


Prosecutors Reveal More Evidence They Say Ties Robert Gentile To $500M Gardner Museum Robbery
HARTFORD — A federal prosecutor revealed more evidence tying Hartford gangster Robert "Bobby the Cook" Gentile to a notorious Boston art heist after Gentile claimed in court Wednesday that he is being falsely accused and that the FBI contrived gun charges to force him to reveal the location of $500 million in masterworks.
The government disclosures persuaded U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny to reject Gentile's argument that the weapons charges he faces should be dismissed because they are the product of "outrageous government misconduct."
During a strained hearing in Hartford, prosecutor John H. Durham neutralized Gentile's misconduct claim with a rare recitation of some of the evidence collected by the FBI team working the baffling robbery a quarter century ago at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
•Durham said Gentile and mob partner Robert Guarente tried, but failed, to use the return of two stolen Gardner pieces to obtain a reduction in a prison sentence imposed on a Guarente associate. Durham revealed no additional detail, but knowledgeable sources said the beneficiary of the effort was to have been David Turner, who is serving 38 years for conspiring to rob an armored car.

•While he was confined in a federal prison in Rhode Island on drug and gun charges in 2013 and 2014, Durham said Gentile told at least three people that he had knowledge of the stolen Gardner art. Durham suggested in court that Gentile and one of the people drafted some sort of contract involving the art, but would not elaborate outside court.

•Durham confirmed a Courant report that Guarente's wife told Gardner investigators early in 2015 that her husband once had possession of stolen Gardner art and transferred two paintings to Gentile before Guarente died from cancer in 2004.
•Durham said Gardner investigators had reason to suspect Gentile since 2015, when he submitted to a polygraph examination and denied having advance knowledge of the Gardner heist, ever possessing a Gardner painting or knowing the location of any of the stolen paintings. The result showed a likelihood of less than 0.1 percent that he was truthful. Gentile claims the examination was conducted improperly.

Chatigny's speedy ruling from the bench Wednesday was a blow to Gentile, 79, who is accused of two weapons charges for selling a gun to a friend and associate who had been convicted of three murders. The associate was one of two men the FBI recruited to join the Gardner investigators as confidential informants.
Gentile claims he was duped into selling the gun by federal prosecutors and FBI agents who wanted to use weapons charges and the prospect of a long prison sentence to leverage him into helping them recover the missing art. In spite of Durham's claims, Gentile denies knowing anything about the robbery or what became of the art.
"It is my client's contention that if he did commit a crime, he was cajoled to do it by two government agents," A. Ryan McGuigan argued.
McGuigan described Gentile as a tired old man who was trying to live out his final years in peace and quiet when two old friends began goading him to commit crimes, one of which was selling a gun. Gentile, white haired and overweight, was seated next to his lawyer in a prison wheelchair and nodded in agreement.
But Durham blasted the notion of Gentile as a suburban retiree, eking out an existence on a monthly Social Security check. It was Gentile, Durham said, who pressed the informants to commit crimes. Almost as soon as he was released from a prison sentence in 2014, Durham said Gentile — who the government claims is a sworn mafia soldier — was looking for help unloading truckloads of hijacked cigarettes.
During his first meeting with the informants, Durham said Gentile, who has not been charged in the museum heist, was bragging that the FBI had failed to confiscate all of his guns during an earlier search of his suburban ranch home in Manchester.
Durham said a recording made by the informants picked up a series of mocking, profane assertions by Gentile about his view of the competency of the FBI.
"He says, 'The FBI got some of my guns, they didn't get all of my guns,' " Durham said.
There was no reason on the part of the FBI to contrive a crime against Gentile to force him to talk, Durham said. The agents needed only to pick one from the recordings the informants enabled them to make.
Ross wrote:
  • Ross 22209
If I were FBI Boston’s new head Harold Shaw, I would have the FBI do a consent search of residence where Bobby Guarente and David Turner would stay in Revere, MA. I believe the address was/is 21 Roosevelt, Revere, MA.

Last I knew, it was still owned by Bobby Guarente’s younger friend, Jean Marie Wilson.

Bobby Guarente and Jean W. had lived at the farmhouse in Madison, ME with Bobby’s wife, Elene, for a while until it got weird. Elene then asked that she move out. (They had been former roommates in Boston).

I believe Jean W now lives at 6 Belmont St., Saugus — having shared for years a duplex with her daughter Amy and maybe still Amy’s husband, who was Bobby Guarente’s nephew. The nephew is Michael James Guerriero. He may at least know who knew Bobby Guarantee as “Unk” or “Unc.” Michael and his wife Amy (Jean’s daughter) have lived in the other unit of the duplex..

None of the residents would have had anything at all to do with the heist and so I expect they would just grant the FBI to consent to bring in equipment that could see through walls.

Or perhaps they would speak to a reporter and correct any misapprehensions or misstatements of facts above.
 @Ross 22209 
A note was left at the 6 Belmont St. last year, Saugus address to further corroborate the information provided by Elene and Mr. Berghman but the residents did not respond. Daniel W. lives at the Revere address and so he or Jean likely perhaps could consent to a search — in view of the $5 million reward.

But the hearing yesterday answered a question that had been part of puzzle: why hadn’t Bobby Guarente sprung “bad boy” David Turner . According to Earle Berghman, Bobby G. viewed David “like a son."

From Mr. Mahony’s follow-up article today (Jan 7) and the prosecutor’s comment yesterday, it is unclear to me whether the prosecutor was referring when such an attempt was made in 1992 (through attorney Marty Leppo with the state rejecting) or in the late 1990s. Or maybe even Mr. Berghman’s, Elene’s and daughter Jeanine’s attempt to return the paintings in 2004.

Maybe the prosecutor was referring to 1992 attempt to return the paintings. Maybe by the brilliant FBI armored car sting in the late 1990s, Bobby G. had just decided that such an offer would again be rejected and that authorities would find a way to prosecute anyone who had been involved in the theft.

Bobby had his own legal troubles and was getting out of prison about the time of the armored car sting prosecution and moving to Maine.

Given Jean W’s total non-involvement, maybe the insight she could shed would advance things.

A Pulitzer awaits whoever gets the next article as fascinating as Mr. Mahony’s article this past week about “Unk."

Jean W. could collect the reward given her bona fides and general niceness.
@Ross 22209
I think the FBI is doing a great job — even though I think counter terrorism should remain a far higher priority.

At the end of the day, I think the heist represents the greatest act of vandalism in history — I think the two main paintings were destroyed by a flood under Gentile’s shed.

Respectfully, I think those who want to write a big Hollywood ending (like the investigative reporters, FBI and the security director) are in denial in not admitting that.

It was Bobby Gentile’s son who described how upset he was when he realized that the flood had destroyed what he had hidden in a tupperware container under his shed.

p.s. I think it’s a hoot that the defense counsel and journalist and prosecutor are treating the polygraphs the way they do. There is not close to the reliability that they claim — and I am simply amazed to see a defense counsel even indirectly suggest that there is.

Defense counsel’s father’s contingency for 1/3 of the reward for return of the paintings belies defence counsel’s claim that he believes his client when his client claims that he does not have sufficient information leading to access.
 -Art Hostage Comments:
Ross, above, raises some good points, not least the allegation Mr Gentile's lawyer A. Ryan McGuigan indirectly has a stake in any recovery of the Gardner art, therefore raising suspicion that even he believes there is a chance Gentile could provide assistance in recovering at least some Gardner art. Furthermore, I wonder if the alleged A. Ryan McGuigan deal applies to other Gentile family members, Elene Guarante etc?

As regards the advice offered by Ross, I am certain Anthony Amore is fully aware of these details and would never leave any stone unturned. The possibility of two Gardner paintings being destroyed, either by water damage, or by fire has to be considered and can be argued as to why the reward clause of "Good condition" has been so rigorously enforced?
Indeed, to be fair to Anthony Amore, he did say to Art Hostage a very longtime ago:
"We don't want to pay a reward for a pile of ashes"

The FBI have been much maligned during the Gardner art Heist investigation, they have been in the unenviable position of being dammed if they do and dammed if they don't, but to be fair, they have only been doing their job and any deals for recovery must be the decision of Prosecutors in the end.

Aside from the two Gardner paintings which may or may not have been damaged beyond repair, there still remains the rest of the Gardner art to consider.

Sadly, what little trust there was historically seems to have disappeared with the recent events and until trust is rebuilt a Mexican stand-off will prevail. Having said that, the FBI will continue to try to recover the Gardner art and prosecute those responsible, not out of any malice aforethought, but because simply put, "it is their job description" and anything less leaves the FBI open to the criticism they could be encouraging further art thefts if they succumb to making deals.

The whole Gardner case is a complete mess, but with some trust and co-operation from all parties, a reasonable, positive outcome can be reached, even if some of the Gardner art has suffered terribly.

Reputed Mobster's Associate Adds New Mystery To Gardner Museum Art Heist



How A CT Man Is Helping The FBI Solve Gardner Museum Heist
For five years, investigators have focused on a once-obscure gangster from Hartford as perhaps the last, best hope of cracking history's richest art heist, the robbery a quarter century ago of $500 million in paintings and other works from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
But what put Robert "The Cook" Gentile at the center of the mystery and why authorities have pursued him relentlessly has never been explained – until now.
In a series of interviews with The Courant, a longtime Gentile associate who agreed to work with the FBI said he told agents Gentile has acted for years as if he had access to the missing art, has talked about selling it and, for a time, kept what appeared to have been a lesser-known Gardner piece – a 200-year-old gilded eagle – at a used car lot he owned in South Windsor.
Sebastian "Sammy" Mozzicato delivered the astonishing account of Gentile and the world's best known stolen art to the FBI a year ago after agents, dangling a $5 million reward as a lure, enlisted him and a cousin as secret cooperators in the recovery effort. Investigators have suspected for years – and Gentile has denied for just as long – that he is withholding information about the art. Agents recruited the cousins, their confidants for decades, as participants in a sting that agents hoped would shake loose enough information to locate the art.

The sting failed when Gentile grew suspicious, Mozzicato said. But before Gentile walked away, the cousins enabled the FBI to record him committing to the sale of multiple paintings for millions of dollars. Mozzicato said he believes Gentile has had access to the art since the late 1990s – which is when investigators suspect he was part of a Boston gang that gained control of the art from whoever stole it.

Sources close to the investigation said Mozzicato's account to the newspaper is consistent both with what he told the FBI and with what agents have collected elsewhere. His story of the art, from the mob's perspective, is now at the heart of the investigation.
A federal prosecutor has even claimed – during a proceeding in an unrelated case – that Gentile "specifically suggested" he has two of the paintings. But, suspicion aside, none of the art has been recovered, and no one has been charged with stealing or hiding it.
The government's assertion and Mozzicato's inside account enrage Gentile, 80, whose health problems have reduced him to rolling around a federal jail in a wheelchair while awaiting trial on weapons charges. He has been locked up on drug and gun charges for most of the last five years.
In repeated interviews over the past year and a half, Gentile has spat angry denials at suggestions that he knows anything about the heist or missing art. But he can be vague, too. He shrugs and smiles when told that people who know him argue that he is a swindler who made himself a top Gardner target by claiming – falsely – that he could obtain the art to cheat would-be buyers.
In a court filing, defense lawyer A. Ryan McGuigan implies Gentile's con is so slick that he duped the FBI. McGuigan argues that Gentile was running a "scam for all it was worth in hopes of getting some quick cash" and "proceeded to lead his merry band of informers and double agents on a merry hunt for nonexistent paintings."


In an interview, McGuigan dismissed Mozzicato's claims.
"Apparently, the government is relying on sources which include murderers, drug dealers and career criminals," McGuigan said. "Not exactly fine company to keep."
One aspect of Mozzicato's account is undisputed: It explains how someone, who for years had law enforcement convinced that he was a second-rate crook, became the potential key to recovering some of the world's most revered art. It doesn't answer why – if Gentile knows anything – he continues to turn up his nose at the reward and submit to continuous investigation and arrest.
Federal prosecutors contend he is a sworn Mafia soldier, and some in law enforcement speculate he is enjoying the consternation he is causing by adhering to the mob's oath of silence. Gentile denies being a member of the Mafia.
Mozzicato played a leading part in the failed FBI sting in 2014 and '15. But he has told agents that he believes Gentile was involved with the art at least 15 years earlier, beginning in the late 1990s. Among other things, Mozzicato said he told the FBI how:
  • In the late 1990s, he was instructed to move a package of what he suspects were paintings between cars outside a Waltham, Mass., condominium used by him, Gentile, fellow mobster Robert Guarente and other partners of their Boston gang, which was a faction of the Philadelphia Mafia. A day or two later, Mozzicato said Gentile and Guarente drove the purported art to Maine, where Guarente owned a farmhouse.
  • Not long afterward, Mozzicato said he listened to an animated discussion between Gentile and Guarente about whether they should give what they referred to only as "a painting" to one of their Philadelphia mob bosses as "tribute." Mozzicato said Gentile argued that the painting was "worth a fortune" and told his old friend Guarente "You're out of your (expletive) mind" to give it away.
  • Also in the late 1990s, Mozzicato said Gentile gave him photographs of five stolen paintings and asked him to act as an intermediary in recruiting a buyer. Mozzicato said the potential buyer was shocked by the paintings and complained, half jokingly, that they could be arrested just for talking about them. Mozzicato said Gentile then cut him out of the deal, but acknowledged later that it fell through.
  • Mozzicato said he and his cousin saw, on repeated occasions, what he believes was the gilded eagle, cast two centuries ago in France as a finial for a Napoleonic flagstaff. He said they saw it often on a shelf at Gem Auto, the used car business Gentile formerly owned on Route 5 in South Windsor. Mozzicato said he thinks Gentile later sold the eagle. Mozzicato said he identified the finial from a photo provided by the FBI.
There have been intriguing, if murky stories about the missing art, but Mozzicato's is one of the more remarkable to emerge since the robbery on March 18, 1990.
Early that morning, as St. Patrick's Day celebrations wound down across Boston, two thieves disguised themselves as police officers, bluffed their way into the Gardner, an Italianate palazzo in Boston's Fenway. They bound the guards, battered and slashed some of the world's most recognizable art from walls and frames, and disappeared.
The thieves took 13 pieces, including "The Concert" by Vermeer and two Rembrandts, one of them his only known seascape, "Storm on the Sea of Galilee." The art was uninsured under the terms of the bequest that created the museum and empty frames now hang where art was displayed.
In spite of the reward and promises of no-questions-asked immunity for anyone returning the art, the investigation has run down repeated dead ends, in many cases because promising targets are dying off among the aging circle of New England mobsters. Nonetheless, a federal grand jury in New Haven was actively investigating last summer and fall.
An Unlikely Break

It was not was until decades after the robbery and the events described by Mozzicato at the Waltham condo during the late 1990s that Gentile moved to the center of the Gardner investigation. It happened entirely by chance early in 2010.
Gardner investigators were in Maine, tracking Guarente, who they believed had managed to take control of at least some of the art. He was a well-connected Boston bank robber and drug dealer who was known by the nickname "Unk."
Guarente's farmhouse was in the woods north of Portland. After his last arrest for cocaine distribution in the late 1990s, he flirted with the idea of cooperating with drug investigators. He didn't. He went to prison, moved to Maine upon his release and died from cancer two years later, in 2004.
Gentile acknowledges that he and Guarente had been friends since the 1970s when he said they met at a regional automobile auction near Hartford. Law enforcement and other sources said the two were sworn in, with others in their Boston gang, as soldiers in the Philadelphia Mafia in the late 1990s.
A search by the Gardner investigators of Guarente's farmhouse turned up empty. But they got a break when they returned the keys to his widow, Elene Guarente. She declined to discuss the encounter with The Courant. But a person with knowledge of the event gave the following account:
After first denying even being aware of the Gardner museum, she blurted out, inexplicably, "My Bobby had two of the paintings."
In ensuing interviews, she said that her husband kept the paintings in Maine and, after his release from prison for the last time, he decided to pass them to an associate.
She said Guarente put the paintings in their car and they drove to Portland, where Guarente had arranged to meet another couple at a downtown hotel. After the couples sat down for a shore dinner, she said the men left briefly and walked outside.
She identified Gentile as the man who took possession of the two paintings.
Gentile Cooperates

Gentile claims he is the victim of lies or speculation by hustlers competing for the museum's $5 million reward. Elene Guarente, he said, is chief among them.
"Everything is lies," he said. "They got no proof."
He admits meeting the Guarentes at the Portland hotel. He said he met the couple regularly. Guarente was sick and broke and Gentile said he was supporting him. Gentile said he and his wife liked to drive and enjoyed arranging weekend getaways or day trips around promising restaurants. He said Portland's vibrant waterfront was a favorite destination.
"Bobby Guarente always needed money," Gentile said. "One day he calls me. He said he needed $300 for groceries. That's what he used to call it, 'Groceries.' He was sick at the time."
"I helped him out," Gentile said. "I've helped a lot of people."
Gentile said he remembers picking up the check because Elene Guarente ordered the most expensive item on the menu – the lobster special.
"I'm a sucker," Gentile said. "I'm the one picking up the check."
He claims Elene Guarente implicated him out of spite. When her husband died, Gentile said he told her that he had health problems of his own and could no longer help her financially.


Complain as Gentile might, Elene Guarente's spontaneous statement early in 2010 invigorated the investigation and brought its weight down on Gentile. To disprove her allegation, he said he decided to cooperate himself. It did not go well.
He submitted to a polygraph examination, during which he denied having advance knowledge of the Gardner heist, ever possessing a Gardner painting or knowing the location of any of the stolen paintings. The result showed a likelihood of less than 0.1 percent that he was truthful, according to a government filing in federal court.
Gentile and his lawyer claim the results are skewed because the test was improperly administered.
The FBI next recruited a cooperating Hartford mobster "to engage (Gentile) in general conversation," according to the same filing. Gentile boasted to the cooperator that he and Guarente were soldiers in the Philadelphia Mafia. He said Guarente "had masterminded the whole thing," and had "flipped" before he died – a reference to Guarente's flirtation with cooperation. When the informant asked Gentile if he had the paintings, Gentile "just smiled," according to the filing.
Prosecutors withdrew Gentile's cooperation agreement early in 2011, claiming he lied when testifying before the Gardner grand jury.
A year later, they were preparing to indict him for selling prescription painkillers. When agents searched his small, suburban home in Manchester, they discovered the cellar was packed with money, drugs, guns, ammunition, silencers, explosives, handcuffs and a couple of odd pieces – a stuffed kestrel and a pair of enormous elephant tusks.

Significantly, they also found a copy of the March 19, 1990, Boston Herald, the edition dominated by the Gardner heist. With the newspaper was a handwritten list of the pieces the thieves stole and corresponding values.
As with just about everything else turned up in the Gardner case, the list of paintings and prices has a murky provenance.
Massachusetts art thief Florian "Al" Monday, who orchestrated the robbery of a Rembrandt from the Worcester Art Museum in 1972, said in an interview with The Courant that he wrote the list and that the values were his estimates of what the Gardner pieces were worth on the black market. Monday said he gave the list to Paul Papasodero, a forger, thief and hair stylist from Milford, Mass.
Gentile said he and Papasodero were friends. When Papasodero died in 2010, Gentile said he attended the funeral. Gentile said in an interview he got the list from Papasodero when, about a dozen years ago, he found himself – inadvertently and entirely innocently – in the middle of a scam by Guarente to sell paintings he believes Guarente did not have.
Based partly on what the FBI dragged out of his cellar, Gentile was charged with drug and gun offenses and sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison. The government told him he could skip prison and go home with the reward if he led the FBI to the art. Gentile said he knew nothing and served the time.
When he was released in April 2014, Mozzicato and his cousin were waiting.
The Sting

Neither was what could be called a model citizen. Mozzicato had been charged with crimes repeatedly, but had avoided conviction on charges such as racketeering, extortion and assault. Ronnie Bowes had been convicted of murder.
Mozzicato said he had reformed and was selling cars at a suburban Hartford dealership and said his cousin was selling antiques from a shop in Charlton, Mass., when the FBI tracked them down and offered a crack at the $5 million. The two men, through their families, had known Gentile most of their lives. Bowes had been diagnosed with cancer and, at the time, had been told he had only months to live.
Bowes had left Connecticut years earlier, in the early 1980s, to try his hand at the drug business in South Florida. Something went wrong one night in 1983 after he agreed to sell 50 pounds of marijuana to four men from Tennessee on a swampy key in the Florida Straits, according to court records. When the smoke cleared, the Tennesseans were dead, and someone had shot off one of Bowes' thumbs.
The police caught him in Vernon. He was extradited to Key West, convicted on three murder charges and sentenced to death. An appeals court agreed with his claim of self defense and released him after 14 years. He was back in Connecticut in the late 1990s.
By the time of Gentile's release, Mozzicato said he was persuaded by events dating to the late 1990s and the events at the Waltham condominium that Gentile had access to the Gardner art. Incidents that, years earlier, appeared to be insignificant or unconnected, seemed to have fallen into a pattern, he said.


There was the transfer of suspected paintings between cars and the argument about a painting as tribute to the Philadelphia mob. Mozzicato said he had been baffled initially by the frightened reaction of the potential buyer to whom he showed five photographs of paintings. He said he became convinced when, pressed by the FBI to identify the gilded eagle he said he saw at Gentile's used car lot, he selected a photograph of the stolen Gardner finial from an FBI photo array.
"I'm no art expert," Mozzicato said. "But I know this is bigger than me. It's bigger than Bobby. This is about the people who can't see those paintings hanging on the wall. That art should be returned. Of course, the $5 million reward doesn't sound too bad either."
The FBI arranged to have the cousins be among the first to welcome Gentile home from prison. Mozzicato said he was sitting on a bench at a shopping plaza in South Windsor when Gentile, understated as ever, drove up in his old Buick. Bowes was his passenger. Mozzicato said he jumped in back.
Gentile was so heavy he couldn't fasten his seat belt. Since the Gardner heist had made him a hot FBI target, Gentile was afraid any arrest, even a seat belt violation, could jeopardize his parole.
"He's got bungee cords he's got to use for the seat belt," Mozzicato said. "He says, 'I can't get arrested. The seat belt don't fit. They told me to buy this thing. I'll use this.' He's in the car. He can barely turn."
Mozzicato said he began making Gardner references immediately. He complained that he and Bowes, well-known to law enforcement as Gentile associates, were being harassed by the FBI's Gardner team. He said he told Gentile that the agents knew Gentile had enlisted him in an attempt to sell a Gardner painting. Gentile growled that the FBI didn't know what it was talking about, but referred specifically to the prospective buyer, Mozzicato said.
Mozzicato said agents were listening to and recording the conversation – and those that followed – over concealed transmitters the cousins wore.
He said he and Bowes were soon meeting regularly with Gentile, handing him cash provided by the government, a supposed acknowledge that Gentile, a made member of the Mafia, was the boss.
"We're giving him envelopes. 'Here Boss. How you doing?'," Mozzicato said. "He'd look inside and say, 'Hey kid. You did good today, kid. Who would have thought? This is like old times. Let's go get lunch.'"
The money was meant to reinforce a fiction the FBI hoped would induce Gentile to produce the art. Mozzicato said he and Bowes were claiming that they had created a marijuana distribution network and were flush with cash. More to the point, they told Gentile they had a way to earn even more – the rich New Jersey dealer who was buying their pot had devised a foolproof plan to cash in on the Gardner art.
Mozzicato said the cousins told Gentile that the dealer would pay $500,000 for a painting. The painting would be delivered to a lawyer in Seattle, who would arrange to return it to the museum anonymously and collect a reward under the museum's no-questions-asked offer. Gentile was promised "two ends" of the transaction – the $500,000 up-front and a piece of whatever the reward turned out to be for a single painting.
Mozzicato said he told Gentile: "'If it goes good, the first one, you can do it again, for all the paintings. Everyone's got a chance to make a lot of money.' "
Gentile seemed intrigued, Mozzicato said, but would not act. Over spring and summer in 2014, Mozzicato said the cousins pressed and complained that he was missing a chance at big money. He said Gentile waved the subject aside or ignored them. The reaction was not unexpected, Mozzicato said. Gentile could be obstinate when pressed and suspicious when pressed harder.
Gentile told the cousins that he finally agreed to test the plan with one painting. Mozzicato said he committed over a lunch with the cousins at La Casa Bella in South Windsor. Mozzicato said the FBI listened to the conversation from the parking lot.
"Bobby starts going, 'If that goes over good, we could probably do others'," Mozzicato said. "My cousin and I are thinking: 'Bobby's dead in the water. This is all on tape.' "
Bowes wanted to leave the restaurant that minute to get a painting, Mozzicato said, but Gentile applied the brakes again. Mozzicato said Gentile wanted five days, maybe a week, to put the deal together. On one of those days, Gentile said he would have to take a five-hour drive, one way.
"Here he is saying, 'Yes. I'll get it. We'll do it for half a million. Set it up. I need a week.' My cousin says to Bobby, 'I'll go with you .' Bobby says, 'No, no, no. Me and Sammy got to go. Sammy knows the guy we got to see.' "
Mozzicato said Gentile would not reveal why he needed a week, where he was driving to, whom he was seeing or where the paintings were or how many he could get.
Bowes insisted that the cousins be allowed to tell the fictitious New Jersey pot buyer to get ready for a painting, Mozzicato said.
Mozzicato said the FBI recorded Gentile answering, "Yes, I'll do it."
'The Deal Sounds Good'

But the next time they met, Gentile was stalling again, Mozzicato said. To prod him, Mozzicato said the FBI arranged to have the cousins introduce him to an undercover agent posing as a representative of the New Jersey pot dealer. Over another lunch, the agent told Gentile that his boss might shut down the pot business if Gentile did not sell a painting.
Gentile responded with a threat of his own. Federal prosecutor John Durham described the exchange during a bail hearing in court earlier this year, providing a rare public statement about the government's interest in Gentile.
"Mr. Gentile specifically stated to the FBI undercover operative that he, Mr. Gentile, is a made member of La Cosa Nostra," Durham said. "Mr. Gentile had specifically suggested that he had two particular paintings that had been stolen in the Gardner incident many years ago. Mr. Gentile became furious with the FBI undercover person because he wouldn't engage in the marijuana deal with Mr. Gentile, at which point Mr. Gentile told the undercover agent, do you know who I am, and stated that he could have people killed and make them disappear."
Frustrated by the delays, Mozzicato said his cousin offered Gentile a way to save face on the chance that the paintings had been lost or destroyed. The FBI knew that someone had dug a hole beneath a shed in Gentile's backyard, apparently as a hiding place. If the art had been buried, it could be ruined,
"Ronnie says to him, 'If you don't have the paintings anymore, if you destroyed them, if you don't want to do it anymore, just tell me. So we don't look stupid. Because the guy in New Jersey is asking. I told him I'd ask you. Sammy said he would ask you. So, if you don't want to do it, just say so.' And then Ronnie says to Bobby, 'If you're just doing this to steal the half a million, that's fine too.' "
"Bobby says, 'No. No. No. I'd never do that,' " Mozzicato said. "And then he goes, 'Let's do it. The deal sounds good. We can all use the money.' "
Into The Woods
Not long after, in August 2014, Mozzicato said Gentile called with instructions. He was to drive to a pay telephone in South Windsor and wait for a call. From the pay phone, Mozzicato said Gentile directed him to a truck stop on I-84 in Ashford.
At the truck stop, he said Gentile ordered him to leave his cellphone and car behind. He said Gentile drove the two of them through the woods for a half-hour or so to a house on the Massachusetts side of the state line. Inside, Mozzicato said a man was seated in a corner and a couple of guys were standing apart, as if waiting to be told what to do. Mozzicato said one of them frisked him.
"So I look at Bobby," Mozzicato said. "He give me the look, like, 'Go with it.' Then, the guy in the corner says, 'So Sammy. How ya doing? I heard about you from Unk."
Unk was Guarente's nickname.
Mozzicato said the man refused to identify himself, which did not seem to bother Gentile. Mozzicato said Gentile told him to explain the plan to sell a painting for $500,000. Mozzicato said he did. He said the man considered for a while and responded with a couple of questions.
"So the guy just comes out with all these hypotheticals," Mozzicato said, "He says, 'Let's just say, hypothetically, not that I have them or anything, these pictures. But hypothetically,' he says, 'Bobby is saying, you got a guy. So, hypothetically, if I had one, or two, or maybe three, if I had them, you could get me this money and do this deal?' "
The man wanted the identity of the buyer. Mozzicato said he told him it was none of his business. Mozzicato said Gentile ordered him to wait outside. A few minutes later, he said Gentile came out and drove them back to the truck stop.
A few days later, Mozzicato said Gentile told him to rent a commercial storage unit and a car. Then, Mozzicato said, Gentile canceled the car. Mozzicato said he accompanied Gentile when he picked up a supposedly indestructible German lock from a used car lot in Hartford's South End, where Gentile used to pass the time with a handful of aging Hartford gangsters.
Then, Mozzicato said, Gentile went silent again. Mozzicato said he believes Gentile had grown suspicious.
Mozzicato said: "Now this kind of conversation starts: He says 'Something ain't right.' He's talking with Ronnie one day, 'You know, Ronnie?. We've been through a lot. You and Sammy are all I got left. But something ain't right.' "
"Then he started with me. 'Sammy boy. Sammy boy. These paintings bring nothing but heartache. They are nothing but a problem.' "
Mozzicato said Gentile complained that, even if he were to cooperate with the government and turn in the paintings, he was convinced the FBI would figure out a way to prevent him from getting the reward.
Mozzicato said, "He says, 'The feds will never let me spend the money. I don't care what deal my lawyer tells me.' "
Six months later, on March 2, 2015, the FBI watched as Bowes used $1,000 in FBI cash to buy a .38 Colt Cobra revolver and six rounds of ammunition from Gentile. Within weeks, Bowes was dead of cancer and Gentile had been indicted on weapons charges.
The FBI gave Gentile another opportunity. If he cooperated, he would avoid a long prison sentence and perhaps collect a reward. He cursed at the agents and claimed again to know nothing about the art.
A federal magistrate declared him a threat to public safety, again, and denied him bail while awaiting trial and the likelihood of another prison sentence.
He is arguing that the charges should be dismissed because of prosecutorial misconduct. He said the gun case was contrived to force him to give up information about the art – information he doesn't have.

Suffolk Downs Was Searched For Gardner Heist Paintings


BOSTON (CBS) — The search for the paintings stolen in the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist led authorities to Suffolk Downs a few months ago.
Acting on a tip, the FBI searched a couple of locations at the racetrack in September for some sign of the thirteen paintings, worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But Suffolk Downs CEO Chip Tuttle said their search didn’t come up with anything.
“Obviously, we cooperated fully with the FBI,” Tuttle told WBZ NewsRadio 1030 Monday. “It was actually very impressive, they had a big team, they were very serious, they went through the entire facility sort of with a fine-toothed comb. But the paintings are not at Suffolk Downs.”
Tuttle said the call from the FBI came as a surprise for the staff–that nobody could imagine the long-missing works by Rembrandt, Degas, Manet, and Vermeer could be stashed at the track.
“At first, it was almost humorous,” said Tuttle. “You laugh it off, the idea that these famous paintings that people have been looking for for years might be right underneath your nose.”
But Tuttle said authorities had a theory that, when explained, seemed plausible–that someone may have stashed the paintings there while the facilities were closed in the early 90s, around the time of the heist.
“The track, of course, was closed in 1990 and ’91,” said Tuttle. “It closed at the end of 1989 and reopened in ’92. So, the way they explained the premise was, perhaps someone had stashed them there when the track was closed. Then it made a little more sense that they would be interested in taking a look around.”
Areas of the building that had been closed for more than 20 years were searched, and the FBI teams even opened a couple of old safes that nobody in the track’s current administration could ever remember opening. They found nothing.
The paintings were stolen March 18, 1990, when the FBI says two white men disguised in Boston police uniforms were able to enter the museum by telling a security guard that they were responding to a disturbance. Once inside, the thieves handcuffed two security guards and kept them in the museum’s basement.
The FBI has said in the past that they know who took the paintings, and that those people are now dead–but the feds have never said who the suspects who pulled off the heist were.
In August, the FBI released new surveillance footage from the night before the heist, showing a security guard letting in an unauthorized visitor 24 hours before the art was stolen.
Days later, a Quincy attorney said a former client of his had identified the visitor in the video.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Heist Boston Shamefully Soldiers On December 2015


Was anyone watching the Gardner Museum watchman?

Guard who opened the door to robbers in notorious Gardner Museum heist under suspicion 23 years later

Former Gardner Museum night watchman Rick Abath is pictured at an undisclosed location on Thursday, February 21, 2013. On the anniversary of the infamous Isabella Stewart Gardner museum heist, Abath, whose mistakes let the thieves -- disguised as police -- into the building is going public with his story. Twenty-three years later, investigators are still interested to know if Abath was in on the never-solved theft. (Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe)
Former Gardner Museum night watchman Rick Abath is pictured at an undisclosed location on Feb. 21. Twenty-three years later, investigators are still interested to know if Abath was in on the never-solved theft. (Matthew Cavanaugh for The Boston Globe)
For The Boston Globe
Night watchman Richard Abath may have made the most costly mistake in art history shortly after midnight on March 18, 1990. Police found him handcuffed and duct-taped in the basement of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum seven hours after he unwisely opened the thick oak door to two thieves who then stole 13 works of art valued at more than $500 million.
For years, investigators discounted the hapless Abath’s role in the unsolved crime, figuring his excessive drinking and pot smoking contributed to his disastrous decision to let in the robbers, who were dressed as police officers. Even if the duo had been real cops, watchmen weren’t supposed to admit anyone who showed up uninvited at 1:24 a.m.
But, after 23 years of pursuing dead ends, including a disappointing search of an alleged mobster’s home last year, investigators are focusing on intriguing evidence that suggests the former night watchman might have been in on the crime all along — or at least knows more about it than he has admitted.
Why, they ask, were Abath’s footsteps the only ones picked up on motion detectors in a first floor gallery where one of the stolen paintings, by French impressionist Edouard Manet, was taken? And why did he open the side entrance to the museum minutes before the robbers rang the buzzer to get in? Was he signaling to them that he was prepared for the robbery to begin?
No one publicly calls Abath a suspect, but federal prosecutors grilled him on these issues last fall. And one former prosecutor in the case has written a recently published novel about the Gardner heist in which the night watchman let the thieves into the museum to pay off a large cocaine debt.
“The more I learn about Rick, the more disappointed I get in him,” said Lyle W. Grindle, the former director of security at the Gardner who hired Abath in 1988.
Now, for the first time, Abath is discussing publicly what happened and admitting that some of his actions are hard to explain, but insisting he had nothing to do with what is regarded as the biggest art heist ever.
Abath, then a rock musician moonlighting as a security guard, said he opened the doors that night because he was intimidated by men dressed as police officers who claimed to be investigating a disturbance. His own uniform untucked and wearing a cowboy hat, Abath knew he looked more like a suspect than a guard.
“There they stood, two of Boston’s finest waving at me through the glass. Hats, coats, badges, they looked like cops,” Abath wrote in a manuscript on the robbery that he shared with The Globe. “I buzzed them into the museum.”
Abath, now 46 and working as a teacher’s aide in Vermont, pointed out that his explanation passed two lie detector tests right after the crime. However, he admits he can’t explain why motion sensors in the gallery that housed the Manet detected footsteps only at the two times Abath said he was in the room — and not later when Abath was bound in the basement and the thieves were looting other galleries.
“I totally get it. I understand how suspicious it all is,” said Abath in a recent interview. “But I don’t understand why [investigators] think . . . I should know an alternative theory as to what happened or why it did happen.”
Now that FBI agents have captured elusive mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, the fate of the Gardner’s stolen masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet has replaced “where’s Whitey?” as Boston’s most enduring mystery.
No one has ever been charged in the crime and seemingly promising leads, like the one that led to the search of alleged mobster Robert Gentile’s Connecticut home last May, have invariably fizzled. With no sign of the art works, investigators are left to wonder if the thieves died and took their secret to the grave, or if they are in prison and unwilling to cooperate out of fear of retribution by other conspirators.
But US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz said the investigation — carried out by her office, the FBI, and Gardner security director Anthony Amore — remains “active, and, at times, fast-moving” even though the statute of limitations for prosecuting the robbery ran out in 1995. Ortiz could still charge anyone possessing the stolen paintings, but she said her office would consider immunity in return for help recovering the masterpieces.
“I am optimistic, and in fact everyone involved in this investigation is optimistic, that one day soon those paintings will be returned to their rightful place in the Fenway,” said Ortiz in a statement.
Abath, who agreed to speak to the Globe to gain publicity for a book he is writing about the robbery, said he first realized he was under suspicion four years ago when FBI agents asked to meet him at a Brattleboro, Vt., coffee shop.
“After 19 years of not hearing a word from the people charged with the task of solving the Great Museum Robbery, they popped up; they wanted to talk,” Abath wrote in the manuscript he shared. To his surprise, one agent told him, “You know, we’ve never been able to eliminate you as a suspect.”
And, he said, they told him they had been watching his bank accounts for years for any signs of sudden wealth.
But if Abath was part of a $500 million art heist, his lifestyle in Brattleboro certainly doesn’t reflect it. He lives with his wife in a modest apartment outside the center of town, where he moved in 1999 to be close to his two children from an earlier relationship.
But investigators say that Abath’s partying lifestyle during the two years he worked at the Gardner could have brought him in contact with the kind of people who might plot a major art theft.
In 1990, Abath was a Berklee School of Music dropout and a member of the struggling rock group Ukiah, and sometimes showed up for the midnight shift at the Gardner drunk or stoned. In a 2005 interview with the Globe — under a grant of anonymity — Abath admitted using marijuana and alcohol before work. In the recent interview, he said he sometimes took LSD and cocaine, too.
The 23-year-old was chronically short of money — the Gardner paid just $7.35 an hour, and his band had to scrape for gigs — so he staged monthly keg parties in Allston that drew hundreds of college-age kids, most of whom were strangers, to raise funds.
On several occasions, he recalled, others who worked as Gardner guards or night watchmen would show up, and invariably the conversation would turn to the inadequacy of the Gardner’s security system, which was plagued by false alarms and featured just a single panic button in case of emergency, located at the front security desk.
“Could someone who had friends who were robbers or in the underworld have heard us complaining how awful the security system was? Absolutely. We were talking about it in the open all the time,” Abath said. “But did I know someone picked it up and used it to rob the place? Absolutely not.”
But investigators are reluctant to rule out the possibility that the thieves had help from the inside since studies show that nearly 90 percent of museum robberies worldwide turn out to be inside jobs. And they’ve questioned Abath closely about his circle of friends and acquaintances in 1990.
On the night of the robbery, Abath said he showed up for work completely sober, having just given his two-week notice to quit the boring job. He and one other watchman would take turns patrolling the museum and staffing the security desk.
Coincidentally, the nearby Museum of Fine Arts had adopted a new security procedure that required night watchmen to get a supervisor’s permission before admitting people after hours — the guards had refused entrance to real Boston police officers who came to the door a few months earlier.
“The museum was at its most vulnerable during the night shift,” explained William P. McAuliffe, the former top State Police commander who instituted the policy after taking over MFA security in 1989. “The entire security rested in the hands of one or two people.”
The Gardner took no such precautions, leaving Abath to make his own decision when the faux police officers rang the buzzer at the entrance on Palace Road at 1:24 a.m. They had been sitting quietly for at least an hour in a civilian car — witnesses recalled it as a hatchback — perhaps trying to avoid the glances of several tipsy college-age people who had emerged from a St. Patrick’s Day party in a nearby apartment building.
About 20 minutes before the thieves came to the door, Abath did something that prompted investigators to ask whether he was signaling the robbers: He opened and then quickly shut the Palace Road door after he had toured the museum galleries and was about to replace his partner at the security desk.
Gardner security officials say that their guards were not supposed to open doors as part of their patrol, and federal investigators have told Abath that none of the other watchmen they interviewed did so.
But Abath vehemently denies he had any bad intentions in opening the museum door.
“I did it to make sure for myself that the door was securely locked,” Abath said. “I don’t know what the others did, but I was trained to do it that way.” He said security logs would show that he tested the door on other nights as well. The FBI seized the logs, but has declined to comment on what they show.
Abath said he knew he wasn’t supposed to let uninvited guests inside, but he was less clear on whether the rule applied to police officers. With his partner patrolling the galleries, Abath decided to buzz inside the men dressed as police officers.
As the pair walked into the Gardner, Abath was at the security desk with quick access to the panic button that would have notified a security firm of an emergency. But one of the thieves — who Abath said was about 5 feet 7 inches tall, with gold-rimmed glasses and a “greasy looking mustache” — asked him to step away, saying, “I think there is a warrant out for your arrest.”
In quick succession, Abath said the officers asked for his ID, put him up against the wall and handcuffed him. Abath said he thought it was just a misunderstanding until he realized the officers hadn’t frisked him before he was cuffed — and the officer’s mustache was made of wax.
“We were being robbed!” Abath wrote in his manuscript.
Abath and his partner, who was also handcuffed as soon as he arrived at the security desk, were wrapped in duct tape and taken to different areas of the basement where they remained until police found them eight hours later. By then, the thieves — along with Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” Vermeer’s “The Concert,” and the other art works — were long gone.
Although the masterpieces the thieves stole are valued in the millions, they left behind what is considered Boston’s most prized painting, Titian’s “Rape of Europa,” leaving investigators to wonder about their sophistication. The brutishness with which they treated the art, cutting two Rembrandts from their golden frames while breaking the frames on two Degas sketches, convinced investigators that the men were common criminals taking advantage of a “score” rather than experts commissioned to steal particular works.
Perhaps most baffling is why they spent only 81 minutes inside the museum, mostly in the Dutch Room and Short Gallery on the second floor, when they could have continued undetected for hours.
Equally perplexing, motion detectors that tripped as the thieves made their way through other areas failed to record them entering or leaving the first floor’s Blue Room, where “Chez Tortoni” by Manet was taken. There, the only footsteps detected, at 12:27 and again at 12:53 a.m., matched the times Abath said he passed through on patrol.
Adding to the strangeness, police found the frame from the Manet on security chief Grindle’s chair near the security desk. Was this the gesture of a disgruntled employee sending a message to the boss?
Abath said investigators all but accused him of stealing the missing Manet.
“They wanted to know if I had taken the painting and stashed it somewhere,” Abath said. “I told them as I’ve said a hundred times before and since, I had absolutely nothing to do with the robbers or the robbery.”
Abath’s denials did not deter James J. McGovern, who worked on the federal investigation for the US Attorney’s office in 2006, from writing a novel that portrays a night security guard as an accomplice in the Gardner heist.
In 2012’s “Artful Deception,” McGovern writes that the watchman let the thieves inside to pay off a large cocaine debt. The character with whom the night watchman makes the deal closely resembles David A. Turner, the 1985 Braintree High graduate who has long been considered a suspect in the robbery.
Turner was sentenced to nearly 40 years in prison for involvement in a 1999 scheme to rob an armored car warehouse in Easton, a plot that he has contended in court was set up by the FBI to force his cooperation in solving the Gardner crime.
But Abath said he never had any connection to Turner — and has no recollection of buying cocaine from him — though he does say that Turner looks vaguely like the younger, more stocky of the two thieves.
Despite the lingering suspicions about his conduct on the night of the robbery and the admitted excesses of his lifestyle at the time, Abath said he does not feel ashamed that his actions led to the greatest loss of art masterpieces in world history.
“I know I wasn’t suppose to let strangers into the museum after hours, but no one told me what to do if the police showed up saying they were there to investigate a disturbance,” Abath said. “What was I supposed to do?”


The Scandalous Legacy of Isabella Stewart Gardner, Collector of Art and Men

Dec 3, 2015 5:15 PM

The Scandalous Legacy of Isabella Stewart Gardner, Collector of Art and Men
Image via Wikipedia
Long before the gallery she built was famously robbed, Isabella Stewart Gardner was shocking 19th-century society with her disregard for convention.

The first time I encountered Isabella Stewart Gardner was the way most people do: through her museum. The Isabella Stewart Gardner museum is located near Fenway Park in Boston, just a short walk from the Museum of Fine Arts. Gardner loved the Red Sox; her feelings about the MFA were a little more complicated.
I initially visited the museum in April of 2014—shortly after Gardner's birthday, which is celebrated each year in the Episcopalian Chapel in the museum as stipulated in her will. I walked through the museum with my friend, marveling at the art and at the museum itself, which Gardner had built as her legacy. She had a heavy hand in the design of the building, and her biographer Louise Tharp Hall recounts how she would visit the construction site once a day, often jumping in to show the workers exactly how she wanted things done.

Gardner acquired and arranged each piece of art in the museum and then put it in writing that if anyone were to move anything, the museum would have to give everything to the MFA and shut down permanently. This was a lady who knew what she wanted.
The arrangement is an enigma—style, artists, eras and countries collide in each room. Eventually, my friend and I separated and I found myself alone in Raphael Room. It's a space strewn with religious iconography, white-faced Virgin Marys clinging to their sons. But the centerpiece of the room is Botticelli's The Tragedy of Lucretia. The painting tells the story of a virtuous noble woman who was raped. She then commits suicide, taking the narrative of her life into her own hands.
The museum is predicated on three layers of mystery.
The room overwhelmed me. From scanning a brochure quickly before exploring the museum, I knew that Isabella's son died only a few months before he turned two. I had only recently given birth to my son and witnessed a dear friend lose hers. With that constant jerk and slack on the rope of life—loss and gain—I felt like I understood Isabella, and I related to all those pictures of mothers holding their doomed sons. A few moments later, though, a kind security guard told me that the key to understanding the rooms was looking at where the eyes in the paintings were directed. I learned later the guards here all have their pet theories about the art and Isabella; this theory was the guard's alone. But it was enough to make me think that maybe I had been wrong.
I am not the only one confused. The museum is predicated on three layers of mystery. The first mystery is the mystery of art itself—what does this painting mean? Why this scene? What are the symbols in the art? The second mystery is Isabella—why did she put these paintings together? What was she up to? What does this say about her and her legacy? And the third mystery is the art heist.

Early Life

 

Isabella Stewart was born in New York City on April 14, 1840 to David Stewart and Adelia Smith. Her father made his money trading textiles and iron. Young Isabella was reportedly a spirited child who got into trouble frequently. Once, she tried to run off to watch the circus and had to be dragged back home, sobbing, by a servant. She attended schools in New York and Paris and traveled with her parents to Italy, where she lost herself in the world of art and wrote to a friend that one day she too hoped to fill a home with art and antiques so others could enjoy them.
A few years later her school friend, Julia Gardner, introduced Isabella to her brother John Lowell "Jack" Gardner, a banker and a staid member of Boston's upper class. He was rich enough to pay someone to fight for him in the Civil War. They married in 1860. Their son, John Lowell Gardner III, was born on June 18, 1863. He died two years later and Isabella was bereft. On the advice of a physician, her husband took her to Europe. The story is that she had to be carried onto the ship on a mattress.
During this time, as you may notice from the dates, America was losing sons by the legion during the Civil War. Body for body, it was America's deadliest war. But Isabella never mentioned this time in her life. In an effort to control how she was remembered she spent a lot of time burning letters and documents about herself. In her later years, she once famously noted that she was "too young" to remember the Civil War.
Patricia Vigderman, in her book The Memory Palace of Isabella Stewart Gardner, speculates that Isabella's reluctance to discuss that time in her life may be more because she was consumed by personal tragedy at the time. While Vigderman doesn't excuse her silence about a tumultuous time in America's history, she does note that "it does reflect an ability to keep renewing oneself in difficult circumstances." And that is exactly what art helped Isabella do. Together, she and her husband toured Norway, Russia, Austria, and France and began collecting art.
Isabella Stewart Gardner in Venice (1894), by Anders Zorn. Image via Wikipedia.

The Great Men

 

Isabella began collecting other things too—namely men. She created herself a coterie of artists and writers such as John Singer Sargent, James McNeil Whistler, and Henry James. Most of her biographers agree that her relationships were all intellectual—her relationship with F. Marion Crawford, a popular Victorian novelist, caused quite a stir, but nothing besides the tongue-clicking of Victorian ghosts remain to suggest any sort of true scandal. (Isabella did burn all her letters, after all.) In her biography Mrs. Jack, Louise Tharp Hall relates a scene in which Isabella and Sargent played sort of tag down the hall with one another. Crawford's letters recount that she and Sargent read Dante together.
Gardner once remarked, in response to gossip about her, "Don't spoil a good story by telling the truth."
In The Art of Scandal: The Life and Times of Isabella Stewart Gardner, Douglass Shand-Tucci pieces together old rumors, scandals, and whispers from long-dead pearl-clutchers to argue that Isabella was an early champion of gay rights. Many of the men she surrounded herself with were gay. In 1875, she and Jack adopted their nephews after their father, Jack's brother, committed suicide. Years later, the older son would commit suicide as well. Shand-Tucci offers evidence that this was over his love for another man. True or not, Isabella would have loved the gossip. She obsessively saved newspaper clippings of her exploits and once remarked, in response to gossip about her, "Don't spoil a good story by telling the truth."
Vigderman offers another sort of explanation for Isabella collecting men like she collected art—access. She writes, "To enjoy the wider world, women needed links to men who were conversant with it." And Isabella was hungry for the world.

Courting Scandal

 

Isabella smoked cigarettes, and the newspaper ran stories claiming she had taken zoo lions for a stroll in the park. A dahlia bears her name, and so does a mountain peak in Washington. She once shocked all of Boston Society by showing up to the Boston Symphony Orchestra bearing a headband that declared, "Oh you Red Sox." She invited the Harvard Football team to her home after they beat Yale. She hosted a boxing match at her home and, while the men fought, she danced. She had two large diamonds attached to wires and wore them bouncing in her hair. At the opening of her museum, she served champagne and donuts. The woman courted the world, and the world courted the woman.
Henry James, a member of her coterie, once remarked that Isabella "is not a woman, she is a locomotive—with a Pullman car attached." James often made such underhanded compliments about Isabella, yet he constantly found himself drawn to her. He didn't think she was particularly intelligent. He found her to be a little too forceful, yet he wrote, "how fond of her one always is for the perfect terms one is on with her, her admirable ease, temper and facilite a vivre." As Vigderman told me in an interview, "Whatever else she was, Isabella was fun." The essayist John Jay Chapman described her as "a fairy in a machine shop." The famous Sargent painting of her—in a long black dress, with just the hint of cleavage and a patterned background that lends her both a halo and a crown—shocked Bostonians so much that her husband asked that she not have it displayed. After he died, she put it up in the Gothic room, where it looms high over all the other paintings. Her glowing skin seems to hover away from the canvas.
Detail of Isabella Stewart Gardner (1888), by John Singer Sargent. Image via Wikipedia.
But that is Isabella through the eyes of others—men. Her art and her museum are the only way to see her the way she wanted to be seen. "C'est mon plaisir" is the motto that sits above her museum: This is my pleasure. This is my delight.
And yet, her narrative thread of whatever story she is telling is hard to follow. Vigderman writes in her book, which seeks to access and understand Isabella, "Isabella Gardner appears not to wish me to complete her. Burning her private papers, exerting control over the future of each piece in her collection, she does not want to be a character in my story."
And in this way, Isabella resembles the modern woman. While we edit our narratives through social media, Isabella carefully curated her life and her presence though gossip and through her museum. Vigderman noted that everything she left behind was part of a performance. "Isabella was both flamboyant and private," she said. Searching for clues about Isabella in the museum is a bit like discussing the nature of Lady Gaga based solely on her meat dress or Kim Kardashian on her Instagram feed—it's both compelling and off-putting, intimate and tightly controlled.
Even as I sat in the Raphael Room and felt a connection with a woman who had died 90 years before I walked into her home, I felt foolish for defining her on my terms alone. There was so much more to all of it. John Singer Sargent's El Jaleo hangs in a nook on the first floor of the museum. It takes up the whole wall. The painting is breathtaking and coy: a woman dancing alone to the accompaniment of men. It's off kilter. The dancer's arms are loose and wild. I don't think I could move my arms that way. I've tried over and over. Although her face lies mostly in the shadow, her mouth gives off an expression that crosses centuries. It's a woman who has no fucks to give. El jaleo means "the ruckus."
El Jaleo by John Singer Sargent (1882). Image via Wikipedia.

Empty Frames

 

And Isabella was a ruckus. Even today, Isabella can raise some eyebrows. Her art collection was acquired through the art broker Bernard Berenson and many individual pieces were smuggled into the country. She looted the treasures of other nations to build her own collection. She viewed it as "saving the art"—an attitude that's at best a cultural condescension, at worst imperialism. She isn't easy to love sometimes.
She flaunted convention, but burned her letters. She wanted to be remembered but on her own terms. She was bold and a lover of reinvention, but her museum remains static, frozen forever in place. Like Lucretia, she turned on herself. I can understand why. She wanted to tell her own story. Not Henry James' version, nor Crawford's, nor even Sergeant's or Whistler's, but her own. As a result, she invites intimacy, but only up to a point. Just try looking for clues to the exact nature of her relationship with F. Marion Crawford. She is both inviting and inscrutable, just like the art that hangs on her walls.
And then, there is the robbery. In 1990, two thieves stole what is estimated to be $500 million in art from her museum—including five Degas, two Rembrandts and a Vermeer. The art has never been recovered and remains one of America's most enduring unsolved mysteries. The frames now hang in the museum like orbless eyes, and the story of the heist dominates the story of Isabella.
In 1990, two thieves stole $500 million in art from her museum. The art has never been recovered and remains one of America's most enduring unsolved mysteries.
Like so many people, I am obsessed with the Gardner Heist. But I hate talking about it in relation to the woman. It seems just another way of defining a woman by what was taken rather than what remains. While the heist of the Gardner museum is the largest art heist in America. In his book The Gardner Heist, Ulrich Boser argues that the theft is felt deeply and personally—not only by the staff and the city of Boston but by art lovers everywhere.
And yet, it was those empty spaces that allowed Isabella to become who she became. Vigderman notes that while Isabella the person and the museum have suffered greatly, what is more telling is how they transformed. Isabella used the power of art to transform herself into more than just a motherless son, or the center of society gossip. Similarly, in 2012 the museum transformed itself by opening a 70,000-square-foot addition designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Renzo Piano.
So what are we left with? The same mystery that started this. That's Isabella though. Even years after her death, no matter how you piece her together, the only narrative she fits in is her own.