Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Heist, The Nightmare Continues !!

Gardner Museum heist still unsolved
By Amanda Milkovits

Journal Staff Writer

There is someone out there in the world who knows who conducted the biggest art theft of all time. There is someone, somewhere, perhaps, enjoying the beauty of artwork valued at a half-billion dollars.

Eighteen years after two men posing as Boston police officers outwitted two security guards and stole 13 works of art from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in Boston, the mystery remains.

Who was behind the heist? Where is the artwork now? Will the pieces ever be returned to their places within the museum, where the late Mrs. Gardner had arranged them herself a lifetime ago?

The museum’s director of security, Anthony Amore, talked about the heist on Friday as part of the University of Rhode Island’s continuing series of forensic science seminars. Amore, who graduated from URI with a degree in English, went on to a career in national security and intelligence work, including as a special agent for the Federal Aviation Administration and most recently as assistant federal security director at Boston’s Logan International Airport.

Amore, who has worked for the Gardner since 2005, said he has reorganized and improved training for the security guards and upgraded the security and surveillance equipment. But the empty frames hung on the walls where the stolen paintings used to be are a reminder of the museum’s loss. “The people who took these things [committed] the ultimate selfish act,” he said.

Amore said he often fields tips about what may have happened to the art work, even some bizarre ideas –– that the paintings are hidden in secret passageways within the Gardner, that the late Mrs. Gardner is communicating with psychics to tell them where the art work has gone. He said he has reviewed every file, every piece of evidence, and organized all he knows into a database that references and cross-references names and information, in hopes of making a connection.

But the $5-million reward offered by the Gardner for the return of the art work, or information leading to the return, still stands. The frames are still empty. And on March 18, it will have been 19 years since two men walked out with some of the most valuable artwork in the world, and disappeared.

Art theft is the third-highest-grossing criminal trade, Amore said, behind drugs and firearms. When the value of artwork spiked in 1961, when the Metropolitan Museum of Art bought a Rembrandt for $2.3 million, criminals took notice. Organized crime became involved. Fifteen years later, 118 Picassos were stolen from museums in France, he said.

Bold actions and basic human error left the Gardner Museum vulnerable. Two young guards were working that night, in March 1990, as St. Patrick’s festivities wound down, when two men dressed as Boston police officers approached the employee entrance and said they were investigating a disturbance and needed to come in.

Despite the museum’s written security policy not to admit police officers into the building unless they had been summoned by the museum, the guard let the “officers” in anyway, which Amore called “one of the biggest mistakes ever made.”

They asked him to call the other guard down to meet them. They lured the first guard away from his control desk, where he could have set off the alarm button, by telling him they thought he had a warrant. The “officers” ordered him against the wall and handcuffed him. When the second guard arrived, they handcuffed him as well. And then, Amore said, the intruders told the guards: “Gentlemen, this is a robbery.”

Amore flashed pictures on a screen of the washbasin where one guard was handcuffed, and the basement pipes where the other was taken, 40 yards away. The guards had been bound with duct tape. The thieves stripped the motion-detector readouts and broke the printer, not realizing that the authorities would be able to track their moves recorded on the computer’s hard drive.

Other museum heists have been quick smash-and-grabs, thieves overpowering guards and hustling out with what they wanted. Even the famous theft in 1911 of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre happened quickly, when museum worker Vincenzo Peruggia lifted the painting off the wall and carried it out under his arm. (He wanted to return da Vinci’s painting to Italy, but gave up and gave it back two years later.)

With the only two guards under control, the thieves in the Gardner had all the time they wanted. They sliced Rembrandt’s Portrait of a Lady and Gentleman in Black out of its frame. Amore showed a rarely seen close-up photo of the stretcher and the edge of canvas where a thief had sliced to remove the image.

The thieves pulled down Vermeer’s The Concert and Manet’s Chez Tortoni and ripped several Edgar Degas sketches from their frames. They apparently tried, unsuccessfully, to take a Napoleonic flag out of its frame.

The entire episode lasted 81 minutes. Over the years, investigators from the FBI and the museum itself have pored over the details of where the thieves went, why they took the items they did, why they passed by other more valuable works.

There are a multitude of theories behind the thefts, none of which Amore would discuss publicly. It’s still an active investigation, and he takes heart that other thefts have ended with the pieces returned. The truth and the Vermeer, Rembrandts, Degas, Manet and other valuable works are still waiting to be discovered.

Amore asks that anyone with information regarding the stolen artwork to contact him: e-mail: or Phone: (617) 278-5114.

Art Hostage Interviews Anthony Amore

(1) What is your favourite colour

Anthony Amore: That’s easy: the Azzurro of the Italian national soccer team.

(2) What is your favourite curse word

AA: I have too large a stable to choose from to pick just one.

(3) When you reach Heaven what would you like God to say to you

AA: Anthony, you did your best.

(4) The public reward offer made by the Gardner Museum contains the line “in good condition” can you elaborate on this because some of the stolen Gardner paintings were cut from their frames, therefore their condition could not be described as good.

AA: The Museum’s Board of Trustees is aware that two of the stolen paintings were cut from their frames and were damaged in the process.

This fact was taken into account when the verbiage surrounding the reward offer was crafted and the fact that the paintings were cut from their frames will not adversely affect an individual/s eligibility to cash in on the $5 million reward if the stolen artworks are returned in otherwise good condition.

(5) Can you confirm the amount of stolen artworks from the Gardner museum as there have been indications the list is not completely true, i.e. Eagle was not stolen

AA: I can definitively confirm that thirteen works of art were stolen. The Napoleonic finial which rested atop the flag of Napoleon’s first regiment was indeed among the art objects that were stolen during the heist. Some early newspaper accounts incorrectly stated that twelve pieces were stolen and that reporting error is still perpetuated in articles now and then.

(6) It is common knowledge within the stolen art world, both the Criminal underworld and those who recover stolen art, that Mark Dalrymple and Dick Ellis both met with Gardner Museum Director Anne Hawley and subsequent to those meetings both Mark Dalrymple and Dick Ellis came to the conclusion the reward offer was not sincere, can you please put the record straight once and for all.

AA: If your readers can take away only one message from this interview, it is that Anne Hawley is a woman of the utmost integrity.
For more than 18 years, Hawley has stated publicly that the Museum is offering a reward of $5 million for information leading directly to the recovery of the all 13 pieces in good condition.

She would not make this statement if it were not absolutely true. Further, Anne’s commitment is echoed and fully supported by the Museum’s Board of Trustees.

It also bears mention that the Board of Trustees re-authorized the reward this past November – and all of us at the museum look forward to the day when the stolen artworks are returned to the museum and to an awaiting public where they belong and can make good on the $5 million offer.

(7) To prevent any stings and arrests at the actual recovery of the stolen Gardner art, do you agree a neutral place should be chosen and then authorities, or better still Anthony Amore, is directed to the location to collect the stolen Gardner art?

AA: The museum can ensure confidentiality to anyone with information leading to the recovery of the stolen artworks. My hope is that whoever is in possession of Mrs. Gardner’s art will come forward in a manner that best protects the condition of the artwork.

(8) If you agree with a neutral location to receive the stolen Gardner art, do you also agree a Catholic Church confession box would be ideal, not least because of the symbol of absolution and also because a Catholic church confession box prevents any trace as to who handed back the stolen Gardner art.

AA: In an absolute best case scenario, I believe it best that the art not be moved at all so that the museum’s conservators can handle any movement, thus protecting the art in the best possible manner. In line with this, I would remind those in possession of the art that it should be stored at 70 degrees Fahrenheit and 50% humidity.

My hope is that an individual/individuals with information that will help us locate the stolen artwork will come forward – and that he or she will come forward in a manner that best protects the condition of the artwork. Again, the museum can ensure complete confidentiality of anyone with information leading to the recovery of the stolen artworks.

(9) Geoff Kelly, lead FBI Agent in charge of the Gardner Heist investigation is clearly a thoroughly decent and honest hardworking FBI Agent, how will the FBI react if they are not included in your recovery of the stolen Gardner art, will they allow it to happen, will they stand aside.

AA: Special Agent Kelly has proven to me that his main concern is the return of all of the art in good condition. The FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office, have given me every reason to believe that they are, as is the museum, seeking a successful resolution to this tragedy, not credit.

(10) There have been many references to Ireland during the Gardner Heist investigation can you confirm your findings

AA: As an open, active investigation, I cannot speak to any specific theories or leads in the case – other than to say that the museum follows each and every lead and encourages anyone with any information about the stolen artworks and/or the investigation–no matter how seemingly small – to contact me, Anthony Amore, Director of Security, directly at 617/278-5114 or .

The museum is offering a reward of $5 million for information leading directly to the recovery of the stolen artworks in good condition, and can ensure confidentiality.

(11) Dick Ellis claims he obtained an immunity agreement from the Boston D.A. in 2002, have you obtained an immunity agreement, if so, would it be possible for Art Hostage to post it on the blog so the public, and those in control of the stolen Gardner art can review it.

AA: Because the matter is in the hands of the Federal government, your question would pertain to an immunity agreement from the United States Attorney for Massachusetts. I have no information about such an agreement, although, I can say that United States Attorney Sullivan has in the past expressed a willingness to grant immunity (depending on the circumstances, of course) in this matter.

(12) We have, and the criminal underworld have, seen the Lawyers and private detectives who handed back the Da Vinci Madonna arrested and indicted, what assurances can you offer to allay the fears of those with the stolen Gardner art they will not suffer the same fate

AA: The Museum’s sole concern is the recovery of all of the art in good condition. The Museum is offering a reward for $5 million for information leading to the recovery of the stolen artworks in good condition – and can ensure confidentiality. Anyone with information about the theft or the location of the stolen artworks can contact the museum – and me directly via or my direct line, 617 278 5114. Matters related to arrests and indictment are the responsibility of Federal law enforcement authorities.

(14) Some people have said over the years they thought the Gardner art was really insured and the $5 million reward offer is coming from the insurance payout, can you confirm whether the Gardner art was really insured, and if not, where has the $5 million reward come from and is it sitting in an account waiting to be paid.

AA: The Gardner art was most definitely not insured. These stolen artworks are invaluable and irreplaceable. The $5 million reward is indeed real, and the Museum is eager to disburse the full $5 million the reward for information that leads directly to the return of the stolen artwork in good condition.

(15) How do you intend to pay the reward, have you obtained permission from the FBI and the Boston D.A. to pay the reward without informing them.

AA: The reward is being offered by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, not the FBI or the D.A. and will be paid by the Museum at its discretion on the receipt of information that leads to the return of all of the stolen artworks in good condition. The reward will be awarded at our discretion.

(16) Do you intend to keep FBI Agent Geoff Kelly informed as to your negotiations, or will you work without a net, so to speak.

AA: Special Agent Kelly has expressed his willingness to support me and the museum’s efforts to recover our art. He respects our working relationship and the museum’s needs to pursue its interests directly

(17) Would you be prepared to recover the stolen Gardner art covertly and face the wrath of law enforcement post-recovery.

AA: I don’t foresee facing “the wrath of law enforcement.” I see law enforcement as an understanding partner in my efforts to recover the Gardner’s stolen artworks – and to return them to the museum, and an awaiting public, where they belong.

(18) Would you be prepared to break the law, even go to jail, in recovering the stolen Gardner art.

AA: Absolutely not.

(19) If you were able to only choose one stolen Gardner painting to recover, which one would that be, Art Hostage would choose the Vermeer.

AA: I am well aware of Art Hostage’s love for the Vermeer, and it speaks to your good taste in art! We at the Museum see all 13 pieces as parts separated from the entirety of Mrs. Gardner’s collective work. She placed each of the thousands of pieces of work in the Museum in an exact location in order to create a larger work of art. With even one piece gone, her work is incomplete.
- (20) How do you react to those (Mark Dalrymple) who accuses you of being nothing more than a civil servant pen pusher who has no authority and experience in recovering stolen art.

AA: Mr. Dalrymple and I do not know each other. I’ll assume that this accusation—if truly made—was taken out of context.

(21) Rocky has been working for the Gardner Museum for a few years now and has received payment for his work, how do you react to those (Mark Dalrymple) who say Rocky is just scamming the Gardner Museum without any realistic prospect of recovering any of the stolen artworks.

AA: I cannot confirm that your depiction of Mr. Rokoszynski’s relationship with the Museum is accurate. I can say that I know Mr. Rokoszynski very well. He is an investigator with a record of remarkable success in his distinguished career with Scotland Yard. I trust him and consider him a close friend and valued mentor. In my years of dealing with him, he has acted with honor and integrity. I seek his counsel regularly, and the Museum welcomes his guidance and assistance in our recovery efforts

(22) Finally Anthony, imagine Art Hostage could convince those with the Gardner art to hand the Vermeer back via a Catholic Church confession box, how would they get paid the reward.

AA: I don’t know that it serves the Museum or those in possession of the art well to disclose publicly how the reward would be handled, other than to say that it would be handled legitimately and discreetly. Further, there are myriad ways in which the reward could be paid out, so it is difficult to speak to this with any useful specificity.

(23) Alternatively, lets take it step by step, Anthony could you take us through each step of your proposed recovery of the stolen Gardner art, avoiding arrests and ending with the reward payments made.

AA: Art Hostage, I welcome you to ask me that question again after the recovery!

Thank you for the opportunity to address these important matters – and for the work you do.

Art Hostage comments:

I am sure those who read Stolen Vermeer realise Art Hostage speaks from a unique perspective.

With that in mind I am also sure those with control of the stolen Gardner art, be it some in Ireland and some still in the U.S. will take note when I say there are only two people who can recover the stolen Gardner art in a fashion that protects whoever steps forward with the vital information that allows these priceless icons to surface.

First, of course is the now retired FBI Art Crime icon Robert Wittman, who, now free from the burdens of office can offer a much more pragmatic approach to those with inside information. Also, Bob Wittman can firmly put recovery at the top of the list and can even work to a goal that only see's the artworks recovered without arrests.

Second, is Anthony Amore, a true gentleman and someone who will walk through fire, over broken glass to recover the stolen Gardner art.

If Art Hostage had inside information that would allow the stolen Gardner art to surface, without arrests he would certainly contact either Robert Wittman or Anthony Amore.

Better still, Robert Wittman and Anthony Amore would be the ideal partnership to recover the stolen Gardner art and I am sure they both share the same desire to recover the Gardner art first and foremost, with arresting anyone coming far down their list of things to achieve.

I hope the right people read this post and use it for future reference when they decide to make a play to return the stolen Gardner art.

Remember, amongst all the people trying to recover the stolen Gardner art, Anthony Amore and Robert Wittman are the only two honest people in a position to facilitate this.

How would Anthony Amore and Robert Wittman actually proceed ??

I will leave that to them to explain if the right person contacts them.

Anthony Amore can be reached at: e-mail: or
Phone: (617) 278-5114.

If you want to include Robert Wittman just tell Anthony Amore and he will oblige.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Stolen Art Watch, Brits Bulldoze Dutch Law in Art Heist Entrapment !!

Entrapment with Lipstick is still Entrapment
Remember back in September when law enforcement from Britain, with an Art Loss Adjuster in tow, recovered the paintings stolen from the Frans Hals Museum in 2002 ??

Here is the back story:

Well, it now transpires the amount of money that went walkabout was 1 million Euros, £850,000, $1.2 million.

Furthermore, the charges against the Lawyer have been dropped due to a blatant entrapment carried out by Brit Police and their Art Loss Adjuster cohort.

It now transpires the Dutch Lawyers Society have condemned this entrapment and their may be legal action for damages. The Dutch Lawyers Society also described arresting the Lawyer on his birthday as "indecent" especially as those charges have now been dropped.

Going forward, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament is going to table a motion to clarify the laws of entrapment and incorporate it into the Human Rights Act. This would give a universal law across Europe covering the law with regards Police and others entrapping people into breaking the Law.

Currently the laws covering entrapment differ from country to country and the criteria for breaches is set to a different standard in each country.

Now, we are not only talking about entrapment with regards stolen art recovery, but also with regards terrorism.

Although entrapment laws differ in each country, the intention to entrap is universal and an Agent Provocateur with Lipstick is still an Agent Provocateur.
If a dog barks, what about a dog with a Harelip/Cleft Lip ??
it goes Mark, Mark !!!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Stolen Art Watch, Da Vinci Madonna Trial, Date Set, Well Maybe !!

Five men accused of demanding £4.25m for the return of a Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece will face trial next year.

The Madonna with the Yarnwinder was taken from Drumlanrig Castle near Dumfries in August 2003.

The five men - three from Lancashire and two from near Glasgow - have been charged with conspiracy to extort or attempting to extort the money.

Four of them deny the charges while the fifth has made no plea. A trial date has been set for 30 March next year.

The five men have been charged with conspiracy to extort or attempting to extort the money from the late Duke of Buccleuch, his son and insurers.

They are also accused of attempting to defeat the ends of justice.

Robert Graham, 56, and John Doyle, 59, both of Ormskirk; Calum Jones, 43, of Kilmacolm; and David Boyce, 61, of Airdrie, deny the offences.

Marshall Ronald, 52, of Skelmersdale, has made no plea.

The offences are alleged to have taken place between 18 July and 4 October last year.

Serious problems

At the High Court in Glasgow, Advocate Duncan McPhie, representing Mr Ronald, said a defence of entrapment was currently being investigated.

He asked for a further preliminary hearing to be held next month.

Judge Lord Brailsford set a trial date for 30 March next year, but said if any serious problems arose a new date would have to be found.

The trial is expected to last four weeks.

The masterpiece, which was painted between 1500 and 1530, has an estimated value of £30m.

It belongs to the Duke of Buccleuch and has been in his family for 200 years.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Stolen Art Watch, Wittman Works Wonders !!!

Heist: The Case of the Stolen Rembrandt

It's Christmastime in Stockholm. December 22, 2000, 4:45 p.m., to be exact. Snow blankets the ground. The last visitors to the National museum are putting on their coats, ready to leave. They're talking and laughing, but the festive mood is about to come to an end. Because just at that moment, thieves are parking a Mazda and a Ford sideways across the only two roads leading to the museum, a Renaissance-style palazzo at the tip of a peninsula, almost completely encircled by water. They douse the vehicles with barbecue lighter fluid and set them on fire. Then they strew steel spikes over the road to puncture the tires of any police cars that try to get through.

As the cars burst into flames, three members of the gang race into the museum. They wear ski masks and carry pistols and machine guns. "Everybody lie down!" shouts the gang leader, putting a pistol to the head of a guard.

Screams echo through the marble halls as two gang members sprint up the stairs. They know exactly where to go, having studied floor plans for months. Their job is made easier by the fact that there are no glass screens or cameras. Using bolt cutters, they quickly pluck a Rembrandt from the wall and stuff it into a bag. Then they cut the wires securing two Renoirs and race back down the stairs with their booty, past a woman who lies whimpering on the floor.

The gang leader pulls his pistol away from the head of the terrified guard and jams it into his denim jacket. Then the three masked men rush out of the building. They turn left, and left again, then sprint along the wharf behind the museum, where an associate is waiting for them in a speedboat.

The boat heads east, past Skeppsholm Island, under Danvikstull Bridge, and across a bay. At a harbor used by fishermen, the thieves tie up the boat and leap ashore, where they disappear. In less than half an hour, the most daring art theft of the century is over.

Sweden is in mourning. Losing the Renoirs was a shock, but the Rembrandt has been a national treasure since its arrival in 1956. To get it back, the Swedes ultimately look to the world's foremost art detective. A self-avowed keeper of the world's cultural flame, Robert Wittman is at the time the head of the FBI's Art Crime Team-a specialist force of 13 agents dedicated to hunting down stolen art (he left recently to work for a law firm that specializes in stolen and fraudulent art). In a career stretching back 20 years, he has helped recover more than $250 million in artwork, including paintings by Norman Rockwell and Mark Rothko, gold body armor taken from a tomb in Peru, and Geronimo's warbonnet.

"Saving these things brings us closer together as human beings," says Wittman, explaining why he goes to work every day. Besides, Rembrandt's Self Portrait will look good on the résumé.

No artist painted himself as obsessively as Rembrandt van Rijn. In more than 90 self-portraits -- from the tousle-haired youth of the 1620s to the hoary old man of 1669, the year of his death-he created a record of human aging without equal in Western art. Self Portrait, from 1630, is one of only five paintings he executed on copper, and one of his smallest, the size of a hardback book. But packed into this space is a work of staggering genius: a portrait of the Dutch artist as a young man, age 24, that has all the energy and pathos of a living person.

Dressed in a dark-brown coat, with a black beret pushed insouciantly off his frizzy chestnut hair, Rembrandt stares out at us with an expression that is both vulnerable and steely. A costly gold leaf overlay makes the colors glow, as though lit from within. When it was first sold in Rotterdam in the 17th century, it changed hands for 35 florins, the equivalent of $35. Today you would need $40 million to own it.

Which goes a long way toward explaining why art theft is a growth industry. It's estimated that the worldwide trade in stolen and forged art is worth upwards of $6 billion annually. Only drug dealing, gunrunning, and money laundering are more profitable. Some museums will pay a ransom to get the artwork back. Others aren't given that option by the thieves, says Wittman. In some cases, the robbers try to sell the work on the open market. But this rarely works-after all, a knowledgeable collector isn't going to buy a stolen Monet that he can't display publicly. So the purloined artwork tends to stay in the underworld for an average of seven years before a buyer is sought. If it's sold, it's usually for about 7 to 10 percent of its legitimate value. Not bad, considering some are worth millions.

The Swedish authorities don't have to wait long to recover one of the Renoirs, La Conversation. Acting on a tip, police rescue the painting. Thirteen people are arrested, among them three Iraqi-born brothers. Two of them, Baha and Dieya Kadhum, are acquitted; only the middle brother, Safa, is convicted. Still, the other two works of art are nowhere to be found. And after Baha and Dieya walk free, the trail goes cold.

Los Angeles. March 25, 2005, 3 p.m. Officers from the local organized-crime squad arrest a suspected member of a Eurasian crime syndicate while looking for drugs.

They don't find any dope this time. Instead they find a painting, a portrait of a woman with a soft bow at her neck. To find out who she is, they call on a local curator, as well as Bob Wittman and his FBI Art Crime Team. After photographs are scanned and databases checked, the painting is identified as the other Renoir, Jeune Parisienne, stolen nearly five years ago in Sweden.

When task force agents interrogate one of the thieves nabbed with the Renoir, he tells them the whereabouts of the other, far more valuable painting snatched from the National museum: the Rembrandt. He also reveals the names and contact information of the people holding Self Portrait.

With phone numbers in hand, Wittman and his Swedish counterpart, Detective Magnus Osvald of the Stockholm police, concoct a sting operation to bring the Rembrandt back.

"I played an undercover art expert for a European organized crime group in America," Wittman explains. "I flew to Copenhagen, then got into contact with the people in Stockholm who were holding the painting."

The Scandic hotel, Copenhagen. September 15, 2005, 10 a.m. Wittman waits in his room for a phone call. He is used to living out of suitcases. Some months, he spends more time on his cell phone than he does at home with his three kids and wife of 23 years. Besides the United States, he has worked in Brazil, Ecuador, France-18 countries in total. There are times when he wakes up and can't remember what city he's in.

Today, as usual, he has checked into a hotel under a false name, using false travel documents. Pretending to be someone else is a big part of his job. It helps that he has one of those faces that are easy to forget. No distinguishing features, no scars, no cauliflower ears. Average height, average build. A regular-looking guy. Put him in a crowded room and he would blend into the background, like a camouflaged moth on a tree trunk.

Sometimes that can be a problem. Three years ago, in a Madrid hotel, he had to throw himself on the floor as a Spanish SWAT team burst into the room to arrest Angel Suarez Flores, the head of a crime syndicate. Flores had offered Wittman one of the gems of medieval Flemish art, The Temptation of Saint Anthony, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. It had been stolen from the penthouse of Spain's richest woman, along with paintings by Goya, Pissarro, and Japanese painter Foujita-a $50 million haul. When the cops tore into the room, Wittman was worried they wouldn't know he was on their side. He got out alive by diving behind a bed, shouting, "Don't shoot! Bueno hombre! Good guy!"

As Wittman checks the money he has brought from the States to buy the Rembrandt, $250,000 in cash, his cell phone rings. It's the Swedish police, who have been doing surveillance all the way from Stockholm. "The three art thieves came by train, with one of them holding the painting in a shopping bag," he recalls. "They switched trains at the Danish-Swedish border."

The Swedish police do not arrest the men right away. They want to catch them selling Wittman the stolen Rembrandt. Baha and Dieya Kadhum, the two acquitted Iraqi-born brothers, plus a 29-year-old Swede named Alexander Lindgren, think they are about to pull off the final move in one of the biggest art heists in history. Instead they are walking into a perfectly laid trap.

In Copenhagen, Lindgren and the two Kadhum brothers walk around the hotel a couple of times to make sure they are not being followed. Wittman, using the phone number he got from the snitch in L.A., calls them on their cell phone and arranges to meet Baha Kadhum, the leader, in the lobby.

Kadhum is in his late 20s: black hair, lean face, sallow skin, hooded eyes.

He is wearing designer jeans, a T-shirt, and expensive leather shoes. "We discussed how we would do the trade," says Wittman. "We would go upstairs. I would flash the money. If he's happy with that, I'll see the painting, which is outside with the two other guys."

At the heart of Wittman's job is what he calls "befriending and betraying." In every undercover operation, there is a tipping point, a moment when the bad guys move from suspicion to trust. Wittman calls this "the moment of acceptance." The period just before that is the most dangerous. A sweaty lip, an overeager smile, and he could blow his cover and end up dead. But years of practicing the art of deception ensure that, as Kadhum walks into the hotel room, Wittman looks as affable as a high school history teacher. It's Kadhum who's jumpy, while Wittman pats him down to make sure he isn't carrying a gun or a knife. "He keeps fidgeting," recalls Wittman. Kadhum's eyes dart around as though he thinks someone else is there. "Only when he has the money in his hands does he begin to relax. He trusts the money. And that is his big mistake."

Kadhum says he will return with the painting in a few minutes. A half hour later and no Kadhum. What if something has gone wrong? What if Wittman's cover has been blown? What if he isn't clean?

Keeping clean is FBI-speak for making sure an agent has not been tailed. Art thieves are a cautious lot, says Wittman, which means "I usually have people following me for a while. So you don't go anywhere you shouldn't until you have been cleaned. But you always have to be aware of that possibility."

And you always practice countersurveillance. You watch the people watching you. But never alone. Wittman is always part of a team. The team is his shield, his radar. This time, the Swedish and Danish police have set up operations in a room a floor above him, as well as in the room next door. Wittman's room is wired, and there's a miniature camera hidden in a lamp.

"After I flash him the money, Kadhum leaves the hotel room and goes downstairs," says Wittman. "The other two guys are on the street with the bag. But the three of them then go to another hotel room where a fourth guy actually has the painting." He smiles. "They are good. The other bag is just a dummy."

When Kadhum finally does come back to the hotel, he's carrying the painting in a red felt bag tied tightly with cord. "I had a hard time opening the bag," recalls Wittman with a laugh, "what with there being no knives in the room!"

But untie it he did. And there it was, the Rembrandt.

"You ever take it out of the frame?" asks Wittman.

"I never touched it," says Kadhum.

"You an art lover?"

"No. I am just in it for the money."

Wittman takes the painting into the bathroom and uses a miniature ultraviolet lamp and a black light to check it for signs of forgery or damage. The end is only seconds away now, and soon all hell will break loose.

Turning off the lamp, he gives the prearranged signal. "It's a done deal!" he says to Kadhum in a loud voice.

As the door flies open and Danish police barrel in, Wittman shields the painting with his body. The five agents are encased in body armor and are toting semiautomatic weapons. "Freeze!" they scream at Kadhum.

National museum, Stockholm. September 20, 2005, 6 p.m. Champagne corks pop and cameras flash as Rembrandt's Self Portrait is rehung. For the people of Sweden, the painting is a dear friend. Bulletproof glass and security cameras help ensure it never leaves them again.

There is no bubbly for Wittman. He is already back in America, undercover, working another case. The guests toasting the return of their beloved Rembrandt have no idea how complicated the sting operation was. Or how a quiet American with a face no one remembers risked his life to help recover it.

But Wittman's no martyr. Just ask him what it's like to hold a Rembrandt.

"It's a eureka moment," he says, grinning widely. "It's always a eureka moment."

The Kadhum brothers and Alexander Lindgren were convicted of receiving stolen goods, but their sentences were later overturned by a Swedish appeals court, which ruled they were "provoked" by American and Swedish police. They are still living in Sweden.

Art Hostage Comments:

Yet again the convictions were overturned as the issue of entrapment reared its ugly head.

This is made more apparent when there is cross agency and cross border co-operation in undercover sting operations.

So, behind the initial media banner headline of catching the crooks in the act, lurks the spectre of entrapment which results in no convictions, or any initial convictions overturned.

Wonder if the Kadhum brothers or Alex Lindgren have launched a legal action for recovery costs and a reward ???

Food for thought !!!

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Stolen Art Watch, Whitey Bulger FBI Handler Convicted of Murder, 2nd Degree !!

Miami jury convicts ex-FBI agent in 1982 killing
By CURT ANDERSON – 1 hour ago
MIAMI (AP) — Former FBI agent John Connolly has been convicted of second-degree murder in the 1982 slaying in Miami of a gambling executive with ties to Boston mobsters.

Jurors deliberated less than three days before delivering the verdict following a two-month trial. The jury acquitted Connolly of conspiracy.

Prosecutors said former World Jai-Alai president John Callahan was killed after Connolly warned gangsters that Callahan might implicate them in other slayings. Boston mob kingpins James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi were FBI informants handled by Connolly.

Connolly denied involvement in Callahan's killing. Connolly was convicted in 2002 of racketeering because of his relationship with Bulger and Flemmi.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

MIAMI (AP) — A Miami jury has reached a verdict in the case of a former Boston FBI agent accused of setting up the 1982 slaying of a gambling executive.

Jurors said they reached a verdict Thursday after deliberating less than three days in the case of ex-agent John Connolly. The verdict on first-degree murder and conspiracy charges was to be announced later in the day.

Connolly faces life in prison if convicted in the August 1982 killing of former World Jai-Alai executive John Callahan. Prosecutors said Connolly tipped Boston gangsters that Callahan might implicate them in another killing.

Connolly is already serving a 10-year federal prison sentence stemming from his association with Boston gangsters who were also longtime FBI informants.

However, this from earlier has left the door open for appeal

By Shelley Murphy, Globe staff

MIAMI -- Jury deliberations in the state murder trial of retired FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. were interrupted briefly this morning when jurors discovered that a file containing documents that were not presented during the trial was accidentally left in the bottom of a cart containing other evidence they were reviewing.

Sixty-eight-year-old Connolly, his lawyers and prosecutors were quickly summoned to the courtroom around 11:30 a.m. and appraised of the slip-up after Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stanford Blake received a note from the jury foreman asking if it was alright for the six-woman, six-man panel to review the contents of the file.

Defense Attorney Manuel L. Casabielle said he was compelled to ask for a mistrial, but the judge immediately denied his request.

The file contained excerpts of testimony from several witnesses who testified, various motions -- including one from the defense insisting that no "derogatory" terms be used to describe Connolly during the trial -- and portions of a deposition of a witness.

Jurors, who were called into the courtroom for questioning, said they had not reviewed any of the documents in the file. They said they saw the file in the bottom of the evidence cart and had just pulled the stack of documents out when they discovered a packet of blank yellow tags used to mark exhibits and wondered if the file had been mistakenly left there. They said they immediately sent the note to the judge.

When asked if any of them had reviewed the material in the file, the jurors unanimously answered, "No."

When asked if they saw anything that would affect their deliberations, they again answered no.

Blake told jurors they were not allowed to see the documents in the file, and sent them back to continue deliberating.

"I think it's clear they did not review it,'' said Blake, who reviewed the contents of the file and said, "There was nothing to look at that would be prejudicial to Mr. Connolly.''

Connolly is accused of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the 1982 slaying of Boston business consultant John B. Callahan.

He's accused of leaking information to longtime informants James "Whitey" Bulger and Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi that prompted the gangsters to enlist a hitman to lure Callahan to Florida and kill him.

Hitman-turned-government witness John Martorano testified that he reluctantly shot Callahan, former president of World Jai Alai, because he feared he would implicate him, Bulger, and Flemmi in a 1981 slaying they had done at his behest: the 1981 slaying of World Jai Alai owner Roger Wheeler.

After seven weeks of testimony, jurors deliberated for an hour Tuesday, all day yesterday, and resumed deliberations this morning.

Connolly, who retired from the FBI in 1990, faces life in prison if convicted. He's already serving a 10-year federal prison term for his 2002 racketeering conviction. He was found guilty of protecting Bulger and Flemmi from prosecution and warning the gangsters to flee just before their 1995 indictment. Seventy-nine-year-old Bulger, who is wanted for 19 murders, remains one of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted..

Art Hostage Comments:

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

Winston Chrurchill,
Mansion House Speech November 1942