Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Stolen Art Watch, Cezanne Guilty Proves Reward for Stolen Art Recovery Impossible !!


Ex-lawyer found guilty in stolen art trial
Lawyer Had discovered paintings in 1980

A former Watertown lawyer was convicted yesterday of possessing six Impressionist paintings that he knew were stolen in what is believed to be the largest private art theft in Massachusetts history.

After deliberating about three hours, a US District Court jury in Boston found Robert M. Mardirosian guilty of taking the six paintings, which had allegedly been stolen by one of his clients from a house in the Berkshires in 1978, and storing them in Europe.

Mardirosian, 74, who faces a maximum of 10 years in federal prison, sat impassively as each of the 12 jurors individually agreed with the verdict in response to a defense request to poll the jury.

"I expected it," the silver-haired, mustachioed defendant told a reporter outside the courtroom afterward. But, he added, "I think we've got a good appeal."

Assistant US Attorney Jonathan F. Mitchell asked US Chief District Judge Mark L. Wolf to immediately detain Mardirosian, who has been on home confinement in East Falmouth and is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 18. Mitchell said Mardirosian poses a risk of flight because he faces a potentially long sentence.

Brian Fitzsimmons, one of Mardirosian's lawyers, countered that Mardirosian voluntarily returned to the United States from France in February 2007 to surrender to authorities and has never missed a court date. He also said his client has a good chance of getting his conviction overturned on appeal.

Wolf scheduled a hearing for today at 10 a.m. to hear further arguments after securing a promise from Mardirosian to return to court.

"I'll be here, your honor," Mardirosian told Wolf.

Mardirosian allegedly tried to sell millions of dollars worth of paintings, including a major Cezanne piece called "Bouilloire et Fruits," that were stolen from Michael Bakwin's house in Stockbridge. A total of seven paintings were allegedly stolen by a Mardirosian client, David Colvin of Pittsfield.

Colvin was shot to death in 1979, but he left the seven paintings behind in an office loft owned by Mardirosian, who discovered them in 1980, according to court documents.

Mardirosian, who was allegedly told by Colvin that the paintings were stolen, did not try to return them, but instead stored them in Switzerland. In 1999, using a shell company and lawyers, Mardirosian returned the Cezanne to Bakwin in exchange for title to the six other paintings, which are much less valuable, according to records and testimony.

On the first day of testimony last Tuesday, Bakwin testified that he considered the agreement to be extortion but wanted the Cezanne back.

However, Mardirosian's lawyers have contended that their client wanted only to collect a finder's fee for recovering the valuable Cezanne. They also said Bakwin had a year to challenge the validity of the 1999 agreement but did not.

After recovering the Cezanne, Bakwin auctioned it off at Sotheby's for $29.3 million.

In 2005, the indictment says, Mardirosian, though an intermediary, had four of the other six stolen paintings transferred from Geneva to Sotheby's London auction house in preparation for a sale. The estimated market value of the paintings ranged from $70,000 to $500,000 apiece, according to the indictment, although Mardirosian's lawyers said those figures are far too high.

But in May 2005, Bakwin, with the help of the Art Loss Register, sued Sotheby's in a London court to halt the sale.

The lawsuit and the public disclosure of Mardirosian's name in connection with the paintings prompted the federal investigation that culminated with Mardirosian's surrender in February 2007.

The criminal trial focused on whether Mardirosian illegally possessed any of the paintings in the five years prior to his indictment in March 2007. The statute of limitations for other offenses had passed.

Bakwin recovered the four paintings that were scheduled to be auctioned off in London. The other two paintings that had remained in Switzerland are in the hands of US authorities in Boston.

One of Mardirosian's other lawyers, Jeanne M. Kempthorne, told jurors in her closing argument that she was not defending her client's failure to notify Bakwin for decades that he had possession of the paintings.

The key issue, Kempthorne said, was the legal status of the paintings after 2002.

At that point, she said, Mardirosian believed he legitimately owned them because of the 1999 agreement. She said Wolf's instructions for their deliberations had scanted that consideration.

"The judge took away the issue of whether these paintings were still stolen," Kempthorne said.

Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at jsaltzman@globe.com.

Art Hostage comments;

Well, there we have it, another demonstration that any attempt to collect a reward or finders fee with regards stolen art is impossible.

Congratulations to FBI Agent Geoff Kelly and a warning to those with inside information about stolen art.

Now do you believe there is no reward money for helping to recover stolen art ??

What more proof is needed ??

Anyone with information about stolen art should think very carefully before sharing it with anyone, better still just keep it to yourself and stay safe.

Seems those who are reluctant to hand back the stolen Gardner art for fear of not getting the public reward offered and fear of prosecution have been resoundingly vindicated !!!

More to follow.................

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