Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Monday, March 22, 2010

Stolen Art Watch, Give Gerald Daniel Blanchard a Chance !!!!!

"To have once been a criminal is no disgrace. To remain a criminal is the disgrace"
Malcolm X
The plane slowed and leveled out about a mile aboveground. Up ahead, the Viennese castle glowed like a fairy tale palace. When the pilot gave the thumbs-up, Gerald Blanchard looked down, checked his parachute straps, and jumped into the darkness. He plummeted for a second, then pulled his cord, slowing to a nice descent toward the tiled roof. It was early June 1998, and the evening wind was warm. If it kept cooperating, Blanchard would touch down directly above the room that held the Koechert Diamond Pearl. He steered his parachute toward his target.
A couple of days earlier, Blanchard had appeared to be just another twentysomething on vacation with his wife and her wealthy father. The three of them were taking a six-month grand European tour: London, Rome, Barcelona, the French Riviera, Vienna. When they stopped at the Schloss Schönbrunn, the Austrian equivalent of Versailles, his father-in-law’s VIP status granted them a special preview peek at a highly prized piece from a private collection. And there it was: In a cavernous room, in an alarmed case, behind bulletproof glass, on a weight-sensitive pedestal — a delicate but dazzling 10-pointed star of diamonds fanned around one monstrous pearl. Five seconds after laying eyes on it, Blanchard knew he would try to take it.
The docent began to describe the history of the Koechert Diamond Pearl, better known as the Sisi Star — it was one of many similar pieces specially crafted for Empress Elisabeth to be worn in her magnificently long and lovely braids. Sisi, as she was affectionately known, was assassinated 100 years ago. Only two stars remain, and it has been 75 years since the public had a glimpse of…
Blanchard wasn’t listening. He was noting the motion sensors in the corner, the type of screws on the case, the large windows nearby. To hear Blanchard tell it, he has a savantlike ability to assess security flaws, like a criminal Rain Man who involuntarily sees risk probabilities at every turn. And the numbers came up good for the star. Blanchard knew he couldn’t fence the piece, which he did hear the guide say was worth $2 million. Still, he found the thing mesmerizing and the challenge irresistible.
He began to work immediately, videotaping every detail of the star’s chamber. (He even coyly shot the “No Cameras” sign near the jewel case.) He surreptitiously used a key to loosen the screws when the staff moved on to the next room, unlocked the windows, and determined that the motion sensors would allow him to move — albeit very slowly — inside the castle. He stopped at the souvenir shop and bought a replica of the Sisi Star to get a feel for its size. He also noted the armed guards stationed at every entrance and patrolling the halls.
But the roof was unguarded, and it so happened that one of the skills Blanchard had picked up in his already long criminal career was skydiving. He had also recently befriended a German pilot who was game for a mercenary sortie and would help Blanchard procure a parachute. Just one night after his visit to the star, Blanchard was making his descent to the roof.
Aerial approaches are a tricky business, though, and Blanchard almost overshot the castle, slowing himself just enough by skidding along a pitched gable. Sliding down the tiles, arms and legs flailing for a grip, Blanchard managed to save himself from falling four stories by grabbing a railing at the roof’s edge. For a moment, he lay motionless. Then he took a deep breath, unhooked the chute, retrieved a rope from his pack, wrapped it around a marble column, and lowered himself down the side of the building.Carefully, Blanchard entered through the window he had unlocked the previous day. He knew there was a chance of encountering guards. But the Schloss Schönbrunn was a big place, with more than 1,000 rooms. He liked the odds. If he heard guards, he figured, he would disappear behind the massive curtains.
The nearby rooms were silent as Blanchard slowly approached the display and removed the already loosened screws, carefully using a butter knife to hold in place the two long rods that would trigger the alarm system. The real trick was ensuring that the spring-loaded mechanism the star was sitting on didn’t register that the weight above it had changed. Of course, he had that covered, too: He reached into his pocket and deftly replaced Elisabeth’s bejeweled hairpin with the gift-store fake.Within minutes, the Sisi Star was in Blanchard’s pocket and he was rappelling down a back wall to the garden, taking the rope with him as he slipped from the grounds. When the star was dramatically unveiled to the public the next day, Blanchard returned to watch visitors gasp at the sheer beauty of a cheap replica. And when his parachute was later found in a trash bin, no one connected it to the star, because no one yet knew it was missing. It was two weeks before anyone realized that the jewelry had disappeared.
Later, the Sisi Star rode inside the respirator of some scuba gear back to his home base in Canada, where Blanchard would assemble what prosecutors later called, for lack of a better term, the Blanchard Criminal Organization. Drawing on his encyclopedic knowledge of surveillance and electronics, Blanchard became a criminal mastermind. The star was the heist that transformed him from a successful and experienced thief into a criminal virtuoso.
“Cunning, clever, conniving, and creative,” as one prosecutor would call him, Blanchard eluded the police for years. But eventually he made a mistake. And that mistake would take two officers from the modest police force of Winnipeg, Canada, on a wild ride of high tech capers across Africa, Canada, and Europe. Says Mitch McCormick, one of those Winnipeg investigators, “We had never seen anything like it.”
Blanchard pulled off his first heist when he was a 6-year-old living with his single mother in Winnipeg. The family couldn’t afford milk, and one day, after a long stretch of dry cereal, the boy spotted some recently delivered bottles on a neighbor’s porch. “I snuck over there between cars like I was on some kind of mission,” he says. “And no one saw me take it.” His heart was pounding, and the milk was somehow sweeter than usual. “After that,” he says, “I was hooked.”
Blanchard moved to Nebraska, started going by his middle name, Daniel, and became an accomplished thief. He didn’t look the part — slim, short, and bespectacled, he resembled a young Bill Gates — but he certainly played it, getting into enough trouble to land in reform school. “The way I met Daniel was that he stole my classroom VCR,” recalls Randy Flanagan, one of Blanchard’s teachers. Flanagan thought he might be able to straighten out the soft-spoken and polite kid, so he took Blanchard under his wing in his home-mechanics class.

“He was a real natural in there,” Flanagan says. Blanchard’s mother remembers that even as a toddler he could take anything apart. Despite severe dyslexia and a speech impediment, Blanchard “was an absolute genius with his hands,” the teacher recalls. In Flanagan’s class, Blanchard learned construction, woodworking, model building, and automotive mechanics. The two bonded, and Flanagan became a father figure to Blanchard, driving him to and from school and looking out for him. “He could see that I had talent,” Blanchard says. “And he wanted me to put it to good use.”
Flanagan had seen many hopeless kids straighten out — “You never know when something’s going to change forever for someone,” he says — and he still hoped that would happen to Blanchard. “But Daniel was the type of kid who would spend more time trying to cheat on a test than it would have taken to study for it,” Flanagan says with a laugh.

In fact, by early in his high school years, Blanchard had already abandoned his after-school job stocking groceries to pursue more lucrative opportunities, like fencing tens of thousands of dollars in goods stolen by department store employees he had managed to befriend. “I could just tell who would work with me,” he says. “It’s a gift, I guess.”
Blanchard began mastering the workings of myriad mechanical devices and electronics. He became obsessed with cameras and surveillance: documenting targets, his own exploits, and his huge piles of money. Befitting a young tech enthusiast, he emptied an entire RadioShack one Easter Sunday. At age 16, he bought a house with more than $100,000 in cash. (He hired a lawyer to handle the money and sign the deal on his behalf.) When he moved in, Blanchard told his mother that the home belonged to a friend. “She looked the other way,” Blanchard says. “And I tried to keep it all from her.”
Around this time, Blanchard was arrested for theft. He did several months behind bars and was released into Flanagan’s custody after the older man vouched for him at a hearing. “He was great with our own kids,” Flanagan says. “And I still thought he might come around.” But Blanchard’s burgeoning criminal career was hard to ignore, as he often flaunted his ill-gotten gains. “I wasn’t surprised when the FBI came knocking one day,” Flanagan says. “He’d pull out a fistful of hundreds and peel one off to pay for pizza.”

In April 1993, Blanchard was nabbed by the cops in Council Bluffs, Iowa, for a suspected car arson and brought back to police headquarters. “They kept me in the interrogation room past midnight,” Blanchard says. “And at a certain point, I managed to sneak into the next room and slip through the tiles into the ceiling.” Undetected, he heard the cops run down the hall, thinking he’d gone out the fire escape. After waiting a couple of hours, Blanchard lowered himself down into the mostly empty station, stole a police coat, badge, radio, and revolver. After leaving a single bullet on the desk of his interrogator, he took the elevator to the main floor and strolled right past the front desk on his way out of the station. He hitchhiked at dawn back to Omaha on the back of a motorcycle, holding his purloined police cap down in the wind. “Why are you wearing a uniform?” the driver asked. “Costume party,” Blanchard said as the sun came up. “Really fun time.”
The next day, Blanchard was re-apprehended by a SWAT team, which had to use flash grenades to extricate him from his mother’s attic. But he surprised the cops by escaping yet again, this time from the back of a police cruiser. “They got out of the car and left the keys,” Blanchard says. “There was no barrier, so I fiddled with the cuffs until I got my hands in front of me, locked the doors, slipped up front, and put it in gear.” The authorities gave chase until Blanchard swerved into a steak-house parking lot, fled on foot, and was finally recaptured.

This time, Blanchard served four years and his sentence came with a deportation order attached. In March 1997, he was released to his Canadian homeland and barred from returning to the US for five years.
“After that,” Flanagan says, “I heard from Daniel once or twice a year, thanking me for what I had done for him.” Blanchard sent pictures of himself vacationing around the world, on exclusive beaches, posing in front of Viennese castles. He said he had his own security business. “I wanted that to be true,” Flanagan says. “But I had a hunch he was more likely in the anti-security business.”
In 2001, Blanchard was driving around Edmonton when he saw a new branch of the Alberta Treasury bank going up. His internal algorithm calculated low risk, and he began to case the target meticulously. It had been three years since the Sisi Star theft, and it was time to try something big and new.
As the bank was being built, Blanchard frequently sneaked inside — sometimes at night, sometimes in broad daylight, disguised as a delivery person or construction worker. There’s less security before the money shows up, and that allowed Blanchard to plant various surveillance devices in the ATM room. He knew when the cash machines were installed and what kind of locks they had. He ordered the same locks online and reverse engineered them at home. Later he returned to the Alberta Treasury to disassemble, disable, and remount the locks.

The take at this bank was a modest 60 grand, but the thrill mattered more than the money anyway. Blanchard’s ambition flowered, as did his technique. As Flanagan had observed, Blanchard always wanted to beat the system, and he was getting better at it.

Blanchard targeted a half-dozen banks over the next few years. He’d get in through the air-conditioning ductwork, at times contorting his body to fit inside really tight spaces. Other times, he would pick the locks. If there were infrared sensors, he’d use IR goggles to see the beams. Or he’d simply fool the sensor by blocking the beam with a lead film bag.

He assembled an arsenal of tools: night-vision cameras, long-range lenses, high-gain antennas that could pick up the feeds from the audio and video recorders he hid inside a bank, scanners programmed with the encryption keys for police frequencies. He always had a burglary kit on hand containing ropes, uniforms, cameras, and microphones. In the Edmonton branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia, which he hit in 2002, he installed a metal panel near the AC ducts to create a secret crawl space that he could disappear into if surprised by police.

Such evasive action was never required, however, in part because Blanchard had also memorized the mechanics of the Mas-Hamilton and La Gard locks that many banks used for their ATMs. (These are big, complicated contraptions, and when police later interrogated Blanchard, they presented him with a Mas-Hamilton lock in dozens of pieces. He stunned them by reassembling it in 40 seconds.)

Blanchard also learned how to turn himself into someone else. Sometimes it was just a matter of donning a yellow hard hat from Home Depot. But it could also be more involved. Eventually, Blanchard used legitimate baptism and marriage certificates — filled out with his assumed names — to obtain real driver’s licenses. He would even take driving tests, apply for passports, or enroll in college classes under one of his many aliases: James Gehman, Daniel Wall, or Ron Aikins. With the help of makeup, glasses, or dyed hair, Blanchard gave James, Daniel, Ron, and the others each a different look.

Over the years, Blanchard procured and stockpiled IDs and uniforms from various security companies and even law enforcement agencies. Sometimes, just for fun and to see whether it would work, he pretended to be a reporter so he could hang out with celebrities. He created VIP passes and applied for press cards so he could go to NHL playoff games or take a spin around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with racing legend Mario Andretti. He met the prince of Monaco at a yacht race in Monte Carlo and interviewed Christina Aguilera at one of her concerts.

That’s where, in July 2000, Blanchard met Angela James. She had flowing black hair and claimed to work for Ford Models. They got along right away, and Blanchard was elated when she gave him her number. He sensed that the teenager was “down with crime” — someone he could count on for help.

Blanchard liked having a sidekick. James was a fun, outgoing party animal who had plenty of free time. She eventually began helping Blanchard on bank jobs. They’d tag-team on daylight reconnaissance, where her striking looks provided a distraction while Blanchard gathered information. At night, she’d be the lookout.

Though they were never involved romantically, James and Blanchard traveled together around the world, stopping in the Caribbean to stash his loot in offshore accounts. They camped out at resorts in Jamaica and the Turks and Caicos islands, depositing money in $10,000 increments into some of Blanchard’s 13 pseudonymously held accounts. The money in the offshore accounts was to pay for his jet-setting lifestyle. The money back in Canada would bankroll his real estate transactions. The funds sitting in Europe were there, well, in case anything happened to him.

After midnight on Saturday, May 15, 2004, as the northern prairie winter was finally giving way to spring, Blanchard walked up to the front door of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in the Mega Centre, a suburban development in Winnipeg. He quickly jimmied the lock, slipped inside, and locked the door behind him. It was a brand-new branch that was set to open for business on Monday, and Blanchard knew that the cash machines had been loaded on Friday.

Thorough as ever, Blanchard had spent many previous nights infiltrating the bank to do recon or to tamper with the locks while James acted as lookout, scanning the vicinity with binoculars and providing updates via a scrambled-band walkie-talkie. He had put a transmitter behind an electrical outlet, a pinhole video camera in a thermostat, and a cheap baby monitor behind the wall. He had even mounted handles on the drywall panels so he could remove them to enter and exit the ATM room. Blanchard had also taken detailed measurements of the room and set up a dummy version in a friend’s nearby machine shop. With practice, he had gotten his ATM-cracking routine down to where he needed only 90 seconds after the alarm tripped to finish and escape with his score.

As Blanchard approached, he saw that the door to the ATM room was unlocked and wide open. Sometimes you get lucky. All he had to do was walk inside.

From here he knew the drill by heart. There were seven machines, each with four drawers. He set to work quickly, using just the right technique to spring the machines open without causing any telltale damage. Well rehearsed, Blanchard wheeled out boxes full of cash and several money counters, locked the door behind him, and headed to a van he had parked nearby.

Eight minutes after Blanchard broke into the first ATM, the Winnipeg Police Service arrived in response to the alarm. However, the officers found the doors locked and assumed the alarm had been an error. As the police pronounced the bank secure, Blanchard was zipping away with more than half a million dollars.

The following morning was a puzzler for authorities. There were no indications of damage to the door, no fingerprints, and no surveillance recordings — Blanchard had stolen the hard drives that stored footage from the bank’s cameras. Moreover, Blanchard’s own surveillance equipment was still transmitting from inside the ATM room, so before he skipped town, he could listen in on investigators. He knew their names; he knew their leads. He would call both the bank manager’s cell phone and the police, posing as an anonymous informant who had been involved in the heist and was swindled out of his share. It was the contractors, he’d say. Or the Brinks guy. Or the maintenance people. His tips were especially convincing because he had a piece of inside information: One of the bank’s ATMs was left untouched. Blanchard had done that on purpose to make it easier to sow confusion.

With the cops outmatched and chasing red herrings, the Winnipeg bank job looked like a perfect crime. Then officials got a call from a vigilant employee at a nearby Walmart, which shared a large parking lot with the bank. He had been annoyed at people leaving cars there, so he took it upon himself to scan the lot. On the night of the break-in, he spotted a blue Dodge Caravan next to the bank. Seeing a dolly and other odd equipment inside, he took down the license plate number. Police ran it. The vehicle had been rented from Avis by one Gerald Daniel Blanchard.

Blanchard’s use of his real name was as careless as the fingerprints police found inside the getaway van recovered by the rental company. Soon the cops were on his tail.

Because of the heist’s sophistication, the investigation fell to Winnipeg’s Major Crimes unit. But Blanchard — now divorced and living with his girlfriend, Lynette Tien — learned that he had become a suspect, so he stayed out of their sights. Two years passed, and many of the investigators who had dealt with the initial leads retired or were transferred.

The case went cold until early 2006, when Mitch McCormick, a veteran officer in his fifties, started working on major crimes and decided to take a look at the unsolved robbery. Intrigued, he called his longtime colleague Larry Levasseur, a wiretap ace who had just been transferred to the Commercial Crimes division.

One night in early February, McCormick and Levasseur sat down at the King’s Head bar, a favorite local police haunt. Levasseur went through several pints of amber ale, and McCormick had his usual double rye and a Coke tall. McCormick filled him in on the Blanchard leads and gave him the case file to take home.

The two were interested, but McCormick’s boss was skeptical. Why spend money chasing a criminal who was committing most of his crimes outside their jurisdiction? Eventually, though, the two stubborn cops made such a fuss that the department brass relented. “But we got no resources and had to put together a task force out of thin air,” McCormick says. “It was like the set of Barney Miller. We knew it was bad when we had to buy our own Post-its.”

They quickly started filling up those Post-its and arranging them on a corkboard, mapping Blanchard’s sprawling network. The case was overwhelming, but they eventually unraveled his tangle of 32 false names. Their preliminary checks also showed that Blanchard was a person of interest in many crimes, including the unsolved theft of the Sisi Star nearly 10 years earlier. They assembled roughly 275 pages of documentation, enough to persuade a judge to let them tap Blanchard’s 18 phones. Now they were in business. They were taking a professional flier on this case. They dubbed their investigation Project Kite.

Usually wiretaps are a waiting game; cops will listen to secretive organized crime syndicates for years, hoping for one little slip. But Blanchard was surprisingly loose-lipped. The second weekend the wires went live, McCormick and Levasseur heard him directing a team of underlings in a product-return fraud at a Best Buy. More scams followed. They heard him wheeling and dealing in real estate. They listened in as he planned his next bank job. They learned about a vast network of sophisticated crime. For a smart criminal, McCormick and Levasseur thought, this guy sure did talk a lot.

Then, on November 16, 2006, Blanchard got a particularly intriguing call.

“Hello, Danny,” a man with a thick British accent said. “Are you ready? I have a job for you. How soon can you get to Cairo?”

McCormick and Levasseur listened with astonishment as Blanchard immediately set about recruiting his own small team to meet up with another group in Egypt. Blanchard referred to his contact as the Boss — he couldn’t pronounce his real name — and explained to his cohorts that there was money to be made with this guy.

James was in. But her parents were in town visiting, and her mother didn’t want her to go. James put her mom on the phone so Blanchard could talk the woman into giving her daughter permission to join him in a criminal escapade across the globe. “We’re going to make a lot of money,” he said. “But don’t worry. Everything will be fine.”

Several of his regular guys couldn’t make it, so Blanchard called his neighbor, a Congolese immigrant named Balume Kashongwe. When Blanchard explained the job, Kashongwe volunteered right away. With his team assembled, Blanchard thought, “This is going to be easy. What could go wrong?” Just a few hours after the Boss’ call, Blanchard, Kashongwe, and James were in the air, en route to Cairo.

Blanchard had first met the Boss a few months earlier in London at an electronics store. He could tell they were kindred spirits by a glance at the Boss’ purchases: eight DVR recorders. Blanchard knew you didn’t buy a load like that for anything but surveillance. The two struck up a conversation.

Later that day, a car arrived to take Blanchard to a London café, where the Boss and a dozen Kurdish henchmen, most from northern Iraq, were waiting in the basement, smoking hookahs. The Boss filled Blanchard in on his operation, which spanned Europe and the Middle East and included various criminal activities, including counterfeiting and fraud. The latest endeavor was called skimming: gleaning active debit and credit card numbers by patching into the ISDN lines that companies use to process payments. The group manufactured counterfeit cards magnetized and embossed with the stolen numbers and then used them to withdraw the maximum daily limits before the fraud was reported. It was a lucrative venture for the Boss’ network, which funneled a portion of its take to Kurdish separatists in Iraq.

Living up to his new nickname, the Boss gave Blanchard a trial job: taking 25 cards to Canada to retrieve cash. Blanchard returned to London with $60,000, and the Boss was pleased. He found the younger man charming and steady as well. “We have something big coming,” he told Blanchard over dinner at a Kurdish restaurant. “I’ll keep you posted.”

With that job now at hand, Blanchard’s crew arrived in Egypt and checked into the Cairo Marriott Hotel & Omar Khayyam Casino, settling into a couple of suites with sweeping views of the Nile. The next day, three men Blanchard remembered from the London cafè showed up. They brought roughly 1,000 pirated cards, which the group immediately started using in teams of two. Kashongwe and the Kurds from London blended in easily. Blanchard and James bought burkas in the souk as disguises. The Boss directed operations from London.

They went from ATM to ATM for 12 hours a day, withdrawing Egyptian pounds and stuffing the bills into backpacks and suitcases. Blanchard and James folded their cash into pouches hidden beneath the burkas. And as usual, Blanchard filmed the entire adventure: the wandering through Cairo’s Byzantine streets, the downtime in the city, the money pouring in.

Back in their bare-bones Winnipeg office, McCormick and Levasseur were monitoring their target’s email accounts and calls back to Tien, who was managing travel arrangements and other administrative details from Blanchard’s condo in Vancouver. The Canadian cops were stunned. They never imagined they’d come across anything this big. They learned about the loot piling up 4 feet high in the suites at the Marriott. And then they learned that everything had gone to hell.

In the course of a week, the team collected the equivalent of more than $2 million. But the individual ATM payouts were small, so after a couple of days Blanchard sent Kashongwe south to Nairobi, Kenya, with 50 cards to find more-generous machines. Kashongwe had no cell phone, though, and he went suspiciously incommunicado. Soon it became clear that Kashongwe was AWOL. Blanchard wasn’t happy. And neither was the Boss.

Blanchard was in over his head. In his many years of crime, guns had never been involved. The Boss, however, seemed inclined to change that. Blanchard promised to track down Kashongwe. “Good,” the Boss said. “Otherwise, we’ll find him. And he won’t be happy when we do.”

McCormick and Levasseur listened to the calls in and out of Cairo as temperatures rose. They could hear Blanchard calling Tien back in Vancouver, trying desperately to reach Kashongwe. He called Kashongwe’s sister in Brussels and his brother in Ottawa. He sounded frantic at times. But Blanchard had no luck; Kashongwe had vanished.

Things took another turn for the worse when the Boss told Blanchard he couldn’t leave Cairo until the missing cards were accounted for. Two more men arrived to “keep an eye on things.” The Marriott suites had turned into a hostage scene.

But Blanchard’s natural charm worked on the Boss, too. He took full responsibility, promised to personally pay back Kashongwe’s share, and calmly argued that James didn’t have anything to do with the double cross. The Boss eventually told his men to let James go. Then he agreed to let Blanchard travel to London to smooth things out in person. “I’m pretty honest about that kind of thing,” Blanchard says. “And the Boss could see that I was taking responsibility for my guy.”

The two decided to set aside the Kashongwe problem in the interest of business. The Boss’ men would meet Blanchard back in Canada with a new batch of cards. “After all,” Blanchard says, “why fight when there was more money to be made?”

On December 3, 2006, Blanchard landed in Vancouver, where he immediately rented a car and drove straight to a branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia, 65 miles east in Chilliwack. He’d started prepping to burglarize the bank before his trip. The Kashongwe fiasco ended up nearly costing Blanchard money, and now he was after a sizable payday. Chilliwack was good for $800,000, he figured, and he would work through the holidays to get it done.

McCormick and Levasseur had both been on duty during the holidays before, but never had a case so consumed them. They were spending 18-hour days in their makeshift headquarters or at the King’s Head, poring over transcripts and evidence. They got no overtime pay. The strain grew, as did the pressure from higher-ups.

Lucky for them, Blanchard’s disarray was compounding his mistakes. As soon as he touched down, McCormick and Levasseur picked up Blanchard live, discussing Cairo, his next bank, and the potential whereabouts of Kashongwe. While Blanchard was en route to Chilliwack, they listened to him and the Boss discuss details about the arrival of a team in Montreal the next day.

McCormick and Levasseur called officials at the Montreal airport with names and flight information. As the targets strode through the airport, the cops swarmed in. The team was detained, and police seized dozens of blank credit cards, a card writer, and computers overflowing with evidence that filled in the blanks on the Cairo operation. To top it off, the hard drives also contained some of Blanchard’s comprehensive amateur crime video of that job. Now the police could not only hear him talking about crimes, they could see him committing them.

The Boss phoned the very next day, panicked. But the call caught Blanchard at an inopportune moment. “I can’t talk right now,” Blanchard whispered. “I’m doing my thing inside the bank right now.” It was 12:30 am, and Blanchard was crawling through the bank’s ductwork.

“Listen, my guys got arrested in the airport, and I need to find out why,” the Boss said. Blanchard was making his way painstakingly through the air vents, en route to the ATM room. His earpiece was taped in and the phone was on auto-answer, in case he got a call that the police were nearby. “What’s going on with my guys in Montreal?” the Boss demanded. “They got pulled in!”

“I have no idea,” Blanchard said softly. “But it’s too much of a coincidence that customs knew. The phones must be tapped.”

The Boss pressed on, asking for news about Kashongwe, but Blanchard interrupted. “I’m looking down. There’s a security guard down there right now,” he breathed. He was deep into the building, making it hard to shimmy his way out in case he needed an emergency escape. “I have too much invested in this job,” he said. “I have to go.”

“We need to fix this, Danny,” the Boss said.

As Blanchard whispered back, McCormick and Levasseur were triangulating the call’s location. Now they knew Blanchard was targeting Chilliwack’s Bank of Nova Scotia. In late January, investigators from Toronto, Edmonton, and Vancouver as well as provincial police and the Mounties had joined McCormick and Levasseur’s small operation. “Project Kite was ready to be reeled in,” McCormick says.

At 4 am on January 23, 2007, more than a dozen SWAT team members swarmed Blanchard’s Vancouver condo, where they found Blanchard and Tien. Several other search warrants were executed simultaneously across Canada, turning up half a dozen accomplices, including Angela James and Blanchard’s cousin Dale Fedoruk.

Blanchard was busted. At his various residences and storage facilities, police confiscated 10 pallets of material: 60,000 documents, cash in various currencies, smoke bombs, firearms, and 300 electronic devices, including commercial card printers, card readers, and all manner of surveillance equipment. In his condo, police discovered a hidden room stocked with burglary kits and well-organized, itemized documentation of all Blanchard’s fake identities. He was initially charged with 41 crimes, ranging from fraud to possession of instruments for forging credit cards.

The Boss called Blanchard in jail on the prison phone. “Why you, Danny?” he asked. “Why would little Winnipeg go to all that trouble? You must have upset the establishment. It’s like we say in England: You fuck with the Queen, and they fuck with you.”

As McCormick and Levasseur listened in, Blanchard said it wasn’t the establishment, or the Queen. “It was these Keystone Kops out here in Winnipeg.”

Blanchard says that he could have escaped from jail again, but there was no point. The police had all the evidence, including 120 video- and audiotapes detailing everything. They’d just find him again, and he was tired of running anyhow.

Blanchard refused to make statements about any of his associates, but he eventually decided to cooperate with authorities about his own case. “He’s a flamboyant guy,” McCormick says. “And an extrovert, recording everything. Some part of him just wanted to tell his story.” He had another incentive, too: Revealing his methods, which would help the banking industry improve its security practices, could earn him a lighter prison sentence.

The first day that Levasseur sat down with Blanchard in Vancouver, the investigator felt like he “was talking to a wall.” But in later interviews, Blanchard became more courteous and helpful. Finally, after some negotiations through his lawyer, Blanchard offered to take them to the Sisi Star. “It’s right here in my grandmother’s basement in Winnipeg,” he said. Blanchard had tried to steer clear of his family since his arrest; he didn’t want to embarrass them further. But now he had to call. “I need to come to the house,” he said. “And I’m bringing the police.”

Blanchard, in handcuffs and leg shackles, hugged his grandmother at the door and took McCormick and Levasseur directly into the basement. He disappeared into a crawl space with Levasseur. It was quiet except for the sound of them grappling with the insulation. Eventually, Levasseur removed a square of Styrofoam and pulled out the star.

They brought it out into the light, where the detectives marveled at the beauty of the piece. They’d never seen anything like it. That kicked off nearly a month of debriefing. The cops had gotten some stuff right, but Blanchard set them straight on the rest. “Never in policing does the bad guy tell you, ‘Here’s how I did it, down to the last detail,’” McCormick says. “And that’s what he did.”

After spending so much time chasing Blanchard — and then talking to him — McCormick and Levasseur developed a grudging regard for his abilities. And Blanchard grew to admire their relentless investigation. Like a cornered hacker who trades his black hat for white, Blanchard took on a new challenge: working the system from the inside. He provided such good information that McCormick and Levasseur were able to put together an eight-hour presentation for law enforcement and banking professionals. “When those guys hear what Blanchard told us,” McCormick says, “you can hear their assholes pucker shut.”

Blanchard’s full participation came under consideration when he pled guilty to 16 charges on November 7, 2007. He agreed to sell his four condos and pay restitution to the Canadian government. And he was willing to take a longer sentence for himself in exchange for leniency toward his coaccused, whom he refused to testify against. None of his partners served jail time.

Blanchard also surprised the court by having his lawyer issue an unusual statement: an expression of gratitude for being arrested. “My client wishes to recognize that this huge lie that he had been living could now finally fall apart.” It added that Blanchard was looking forward to moving on. “He recognizes that the men and women of the Winnipeg Police Service made that all possible.”

Instead of the maximum of 164 years, Blanchard got eight. And then last summer, after serving less than two, he was released into carefully guarded probation. He now lives in a Vancouver halfway house, where he is prohibited from going anywhere near certain types of surveillance equipment and talking to any of his former associates. One of the people he can call is Randy Flanagan, his old mentor from high school.

“He filled me in about the past 10 years,” Flanagan says. “I was surprised, but not that surprised, about what our little former son had been up to.” Blanchard told Flanagan he wanted to turn his life around. Working with McCormick and Levasseur had convinced him that he could become a consultant to the banks. “Who knows?” Flanagan says. “Maybe he will get that security business he talked about off the ground after all.”

The judge had a similar thought during Blanchard’s plea hearing. The banks “should hire him and pay him a million dollars a year,” he said. And right before sentencing, the judge turned directly to Blanchard. “I think that you have a great future ahead of you if you wish to pursue an honest style of life,” he said. “Although I’m not prepared to sign a letter of reference.”

Joshuah Bearman ( wrote about rescuing American hostages from Iran in issue 15.05.
Art Hostage Comments:

John Lennon said "Give Peace a Chance"

All we are saying, is give Dan a chance, all we are saying is give Dan a chance !!!!

Art Hostage says "Give Gerald Daniel Blanchard a Chance"

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Heist, All Aboard, Ready To Go !!!

Reward, return now focus of case

Twenty years ago Thursday, the biggest art heist in history occurred at the Stewart Gardner Museum along the Fenway. Since then, the leads have been tantalizing and plentiful, but have unswervingly led to a dead end.

For years convicted art thief Myles J. Connor Jr. boasted that he knew who committed the brazen art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 and could help recover the masterpieces.

Last summer, federal prosecutors decided to find out if he actually knew anything.

They gave Connor and a longtime friend, Edward J. Libby, letters of immunity that promised to shield them from criminal charges if they helped recover the 13 stolen paintings and artwork, according to Connor, Libby, and Robert A. George, a Boston criminal defense lawyer who engineered the agreement.

All three hoped to share a $5 million reward offered by the Gardner museum for information leading to the safe return of the artwork, which is valued at $500 million and includes three works by Rembrandt — including his only seascape — and a Vermeer.

But once again Connor came up empty-handed.

“The main lead we have has not come through,’’ Connor, 67, said in an interview Thursday outside his ranch house in Blackstone, a pet turkey standing at his feet.

So it has always gone with the effort to recover the Gardner treasures. Twenty years ago this Thursday, the biggest art heist in history occurred at the Italianate museum along the Fenway. Since then, the leads have been tantalizing and plentiful, but have unswervingly led to a dead end.

Since two men dressed as Boston police officers talked their way into the museum in the early morning of March 18, 1990, bound two security guards, and made off with the artwork, the FBI and museum officials have heard from psychics and people with divining rods, spoken to mobsters and art collectors, searched houses from New England to Europe, and recently submitted evidence for DNA testing.

Yet, the identity of the thieves and the whereabouts of the stolen treasures remain a mystery.

Federal authorities and museum officials say they worry that someone who knows the location of the missing artwork has kept silent out of fear of prosecution or reprisals from those involved in the heist.

As a result, law enforcement authorities who ordinarily vow to catch and punish wrongdoers have adopted the unusual position of trying to woo anyone who knows where the artwork is stashed, with promises of immunity and riches.

“There is an opportunity for someone to return the paintings, become a multimillionaire, and remain confidential,’’ said FBI special agent Geoffrey J. Kelly, who has been leading the Gardner investigation for eight years.

The return of the artwork, he said, can be negotiated through federal authorities, the museum, the media, even a clergy member. And the FBI and museum officials have promised they will protect the identity of anyone who comes forward.

“The important thing is they are recovered,’’ Kelly said of the treasures.

US Attorney Carmen Ortiz acknowledged it’s too late to prosecute anyone for stealing the artworks because the statute of limitations lapsed years ago. But individuals caught deliberately hiding the paintings could face federal charges for possessing stolen art objects or for obstruction of justice.

“Immunity is on the table,’’ said Ortiz, and her office will negotiate so that someone can return the paintings without being prosecuted.

Another potential reason the artworks have not surfaced, authorities said, could be that the thief who stashed the masterpieces has died without telling anyone of their whereabouts.

That prospect has prompted authorities to make about a dozen searches over the past decade of houses where deceased suspects once lived in the hopes of finding treasures stashed in a dusty attic, crawlspace, or in a secret hiding place.

“We’ve gotten some strange looks when we knock on someone’s door and say, ‘Can we search your home for the world’s most valuable artwork?,’ ’’ said Kelly, who personally combed through houses from Dedham to Bangor, Maine.

While the hunt for the artwork is international and has led investigators to places ranging from France to Japan, Kelly said he suspects the thieves were local criminals and the artwork remains in New England.

Boston was recovering from St. Patrick’s Day celebrations when two men posing as police officers banged on the museum’s Palace Road entrance at 1:24 a.m. on March 18, 1990, saying they had a report of a disturbance. One of two young guards on duty buzzed them in.

The thieves subdued the guards, bound them with duct tape and handcuffs in the basement, and spent 81 minutes in the museum, pilfering some of its most valuable works.

They slashed two Rembrandts from their frames — “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee and “A Lady and Gentleman in Black’’ — leaving a dusting of chips on the floor.

They pulled “The Concert,’’ one of 36 Vermeers in the world, from its frame, along with Flinck’s “Landscape With an Obelisk,’’ Manet’s “Chez Tortoni,’’ a postage stamp-size self-portrait by Rembrandt, and five sketches by Degas. They also stole the gilded eagle finial from atop a Napoleonic flag and a bronze Chinese beaker.

“There was no great genius behind this case,’’ said Anthony Amore, director of security for the Gardner for the past 4 1/2 years and a former employee of the Department of Homeland Security. “They put on costumes, a guy rang the buzzer, and it was all over.’’

Since he arrived at the Gardner, Amore has created a massive database of leads and potential suspects. He said he devotes about 60 hours a week to the investigation.

“Everyone is a suspect,’’ said Amore, who has worked closely with the FBI and prosecutors.

The list of possible suspects has included low-level hoodlums; assorted con men and art thieves; Irish Republican Army gunrunners; a California screenwriter; and some of Boston’s most notorious organized crime figures. Investigators said they don’t rule out the possibility that the culprits had help from a current or former museum employee and that studies show that 87 percent of museum robberies worldwide have been inside jobs.

Despite media speculation that fugitive gangster James “Whitey’’ Bulger may have been involved, the FBI said it has not linked him to the heist.

One of Bulger’s closest former associates, Kevin J. Weeks, said in a telephone interview last week that Bulger and his longtime sidekick, Stephen “The Rifleman’’ Flemmi, were not involved in the theft but made their own unsuccessful search for the artwork.

“He was trying to find out who did do it,’’ said Weeks, adding that Bulger told him he wanted the paintings to use in the future as a “get out of jail free card.’’

Few names have come up more often in connection with the break-in than Myles Connor, in no small part because of his public boasts that it was his idea.

Connor, who stole a Rembrandt from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts in 1975 and later cut a deal to return it, was in an Illinois jail when the Gardner paintings were swiped. But he has long said that former criminal associates staged the robbery years after Connor and one of them toured the museum and discussed stealing its artwork.

Last summer, Connor indicated he could broker the return of the Gardner paintings and obtained letters of immunity from the US attorney’s office for himself and Libby, who described himself as a retired businessman in the fishing industry. Libby has a house on Cape Cod and lives outside Myrtle Beach, S.C.

But Connor hasn’t come up with anything and says he plans to travel to Israel within a month because he thinks the artwork may be there. He declined to specify why.

Assistant US Attorney Brian T. Kelly, who is working with the FBI and Amore on the Gardner investigation, said prosecutors gave Connor an immunity letter because he repeatedly said he knew where the paintings were.

“He’s had his chances to lead us to the paintings, but nothing has come of it,’’ he said.

It is hard to imagine, Amore said, why someone with knowledge of the paintings wouldn’t come forward, given the $5 million reward.

He promised that the reward “is for real’’ and the museum would even pay a portion of it if someone returned only some of the pieces.

The only people ineligible for the reward, he said, are the thieves because “I think that’s where the line is drawn between reward and ransom.’’

Kelly, the FBI agent, said that even though the paintings are priceless, they are impossible to sell on the black market and always will be.

“These paintings are never going to not be hot,’’ Kelly said. “They’re always going to be the famous Gardner museum paintings.’’

Shelley Murphy can be reached at Jonathan Saltzman can be reached at

Gardner heist sleuths: Immunity for the art!
20th anniversary leads to publicity surge

Tom Mashberg
Nearly 20 years after the enigmatic Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, key investigators are redoubling efforts to publicize an offer of full and unconditional immunity to anyone who helps locate or return 13 stolen items valued at a half-billion dollars.

The investigators have made recovering the goods a far greater priority than identifying the elusive twosome who broke in and removed the treasures. They hope the large volume of media coverage surrounding the milestone anniversary Thursday, March 18, will help propel the message forward.

“When I first took the case the Office of the U.S. Attorney was firmly against the idea of immunity,” said FBI Special Agent Geoffrey J. Kelly, who has been on it for nine years. “It has become clear that immunity is an essential tool - it weeds out charlatans. It is important to press this point: People can come forward with proof positive and not fear prosecution.

Proof can include one or more of the items filched during the robbery or a detailed photo of the backs of the paintings.

The eagerness to tout the immunity offer - alongside the museum’s well-known $5 million cash reward and an additional promise of anonymity to anyone coming forward - marks a unified grand strategy of sorts for a case that has endured 20 tormenting years of murkiness and missteps.

The immunity offer has been on the table for more than a year, but in recent weeks both the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston have made themselves available to press home the point to domestic and foreign media.

That is a far cry from the 10th and 15th anniversaries, when there was spotty cooperation among the FBI, museum investigators and federal prosecutors and no such promise of immunity.

That was before Gardner Museum security director Anthony M. Amore, the lead sleuth on the case, forged ties with the FBI and Brian T. Kelly, an assistant U.S. attorney in Boston who has long advocated the immunity idea.

Let’s make a deal

Carmen M. Ortiz, Kelly’s chief at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, said in an interview that “immunity is a significant inducement in this case, especially if someone were fearing repercussions.”

“What I would like the message to be is that immunity is there in terms of encouraging someone who is involved in concealing these paintings or being used as a conduit for their return,” Ortiz said. “It protects them from prosecution for playing that role.”

She said no document has been drawn up because “any formal immunity would be an agreement to be reached after we looked at all the particulars of the offer.”

Geoffrey Kelly of the FBI (no relation to Brian Kelly), said the immunity offer can only advance the possibility of someone legitimate finally coming forward.

“Maybe that person is mistrustful of law enforcement,” he said. “Maybe they have had a bad experience with the FBI, or they may have the attitude that the offer is too good to be true, that they are saying to themselves, ‘I’m going to be paraded before the media and arrested and jailed.’ That’s absolutely not the case.”

“If someone had come forward a week after the robbery and said, ‘I wasn’t involved but I want the reward to turn it in,’ that would stretch credibility a lot,” Kelly said. “But 20 years later, it is logical to think these paintings would have changed hands any number of times and wound up by now in an innocent person’s basement.”

In an interview, Amore said the museum is very pleased with the immunity offer and the cooperation with law enforcement. He noted, however, that anyone with information of the whereabouts of the art can also approach him.

“If someone feels uncomfortable contacting law enforcement, they can come to me directly and be assured of anonymity and the reward opportunity,” he said.

Heist called local job

Even as investigators look to global publicity to fish for clues and tips, they are hunting down leads and say they believe more and more that the most valuable of the stolen items - works by Rembrandt and Vermeer - are within a 100-mile or so radius of Boston, the museum’s home since 1903.

Amore and Geoffrey Kelly both say the crime truly looks to be a job pulled off by Boston-area criminal gangs, many of which were busily robbing fine art from museums and estates across Massachsuetts and northern New England as far back as the late 1960s.

Both heavily discounted the so-called “Dr. No” theory of the crime - the notion that it was commissioned by a “dark overlord” who now enjoys the art alone in a secret lair.

Amore traces that notion to the 1962 James Bond movie in which Bond (Sean Connery), about to dine with the nefarious “No,” is amazed to see a painting of the Duke of Wellington by Goya on his wall. The portrait had been stolen from the National Gallery in London by a 60-year-old amateur thief just before filming began.

Two probes at once

The two men said they see their current probe as “two separate but ongoing investigations.”

Foremost is discovering the location of the art or uncovering efforts by someone to possess and conceal it illegally. Secondary in importance is who committed the crime, although knowing the identities of the thieves could be helpful in determining the works’ whereabouts. Amore and Geoffrey Kelly refused to disclose details on current leads, but said some are fresh and being robustly pursued.

“While the heist itself is one of the most intriguing mysteries in Boston history - we all want to know what happened 20 years ago - the real priority now is ‘Where are they?’ ” Kelly said.

Said Amore: “We get leads and information on the whereabouts of the art and on the ID of the thieves all the time. I have to prioritize them in the order of who might actually have them before who might have stolen them.

“We would set aside a cold lead on who the thieves might have been for a warmer lead on where the art might be.”

Art Hostage Comments:

As you can imagine, this is wonderful news that all those concerned from the Gardner Museum and Law Enforcement have finally agreed to set aside any previous reluctance and sign up to allowing the Gardner art to come home, reward paid, immunity agreement in full.

First, Geoff Kelly Boston FBI Agent refers to "A Clergy Member" when offering a route to recovering the Gardner art, task one done.

Anthony Amore, gives details of the reward and makes it clear a portion of the the reward will be paid for some Gardner art without having to wait until all of the Gardner art has been recovered, task two done.

Anthony Amore also states clearly, the reward is for real going further than ever dared before.

Carmen Ortiz the new U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts has come out publicly and offered the all important immunity agreement.

It must be said however, Brian Kelly Assistant to Carmen Ortiz has worked tirelessly with Anthony Amore to achieve this new attitude towards offering immunity.

Anthony Amore has had Art Hostage constantly driving him to distraction over the immunity agreement for the last few years and Anthony Amore has delivered.

Memo to "You"

It is time, all the things Art Hostage has been asking for have been delivered which has allowed Art Hostage to renounce any interest in collecting any part of the reward money.

All your questions have now been answered and it is time to go to the Priest, deposit the Gardner art in the Catholic Church confession box and allow the Priest to hand back the Gardner art, however many pieces you can retrieve.

The news will break and the Priest will keep your secret behind the secret of the confession and also the Gardner art recovery from a Confession box will offer the Symbolism of Absolution.

Finally, you can just go speak to the Priest and direct him to the Gardner art and he will in turn direct Anthony Amore who will collect.

Location, location, location is all that is needed.

Be nice to get something back before this coming Thursday.

If you are still in two minds, try the Degas drawing as a tester !!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Heist, DNA, Dr No, Anthony Amore, Dr Yes, Dr Love Even !!!!

DNA clues hunted in ’90 art theft
FBI hopes technology can yield lead in Gardner Museum case

On the eve of the 20th anniversary of the theft of masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the FBI is resubmitting evidence taken from the crime scene for DNA analysis in hope of gaining a long-sought break in the case.

Because of advances in DNA analysis since the 1990 robbery, the lead agent in the case, Geoffrey Kelly, decided to send evidence to the FBI’s scientific laboratory in Quantico, Va., a spokeswoman in the FBI’s Boston office said.

The heist, which included three Rembrandts and a Vermeer, remains the world’s largest art theft in dollar value.

Kelly said he could not disclose the type of evidence to be reviewed, but others familiar with the case said it would probably include long strips of duct tape used to tie up the museum’s two night watchmen, whom the thieves overpowered to get access to the artwork.

“If they left any sweat on that duct tape, a sample could be drawn, and with that sample there’s the possibility of a result,’’ said Dr. Bruce Budowle, former senior scientist of the FBI’s Quantico lab.

The FBI conducted DNA tests on items taken from the crime scene at the time of the theft, but none of the tests produced a usable sample.

Huge strides in DNA analysis in the two decades since the crime could mean a different outcome this time.

“What could be done in 1990 and what could be done in 2010 are ages apart,’’ said Budowle, who now heads the Institute of Investigative Genetics at the University of North Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth.

If analysts can extract a sample, they might determine physical attributes, including bone structure of an individual’s face, and a DNA profile that investigators could use to search a DNA database of 7 million individuals convicted of felonies in the United States in the past 20 years, Budowle said.

Gaining a worthwhile clue would provide a boon to investigators who have coped with dashed hopes and phony leads in pursuing the theft of 13 pieces of art..

Kelly acknowledged that, despite having pursued countless tips over the last two decades, investigators have received no verifiable leads on the artwork’s whereabouts or even how the theft took place.

“In the last 20 years and the last eight that I’ve had the case, there hasn’t been a concrete sighting, or real proof of life,’’ Kelly said. “At the same time, I can’t get discouraged about it. It would be very difficult to put my heart in this investigation if I allowed myself to get discouraged.’’

Kelly said that after years of investigative work, he believes that the heist was done by local criminals and not international art thieves. He said he based his opinion primarily on the thieves’ rough handling of some of the artwork, including smashing or cutting some of the paintings from their frames.

He speculates that the thieves were not sophisticated enough to find a buyer capable of fencing such high-profile masterpieces and that the stolen pieces remain hidden or buried.

“I am open to any theory, but after doing this for eight years, my feeling is that it was some local guys, a quick score in and out, and they wake up the next morning and they realize that they’ve just committed the art heist of the century,’’ Kelly said in a recent interview.

As for why none of the 13 stolen pieces, with a total estimated value of $250 million to $300 million, have ever surfaced, Kelly said: “They can’t sell it. It’s too hot. Taking the theory . . . to its potential conclusion, now you’ve got these things so what do you do with them? Well, you hold on to them until the heat dies down, and here it is 20 years later, and it’s just as hot.’’

Although the FBI maintains the theft at the top of its list of unsolved crimes, its agents and supervisors have remained mum about leads they were pursuing or its theories about who was responsible. At a conference in 2000, held on the 10th anniversary of the heist, the two FBI agents then in charge of the case, when pressed on who they felt was responsible, would say only that they had pursued leads on an international scale, including in Japan and Italy.

Kelly, too, declined to be specific about local criminal figures or gangs he may have looked at as possible suspects. In the past, federal investigators said that while they have no hard evidence to link mob kingpin James (Whitey) Bulger to the crime, they could not rule out that he had knowledge of who pulled it off or where the artwork was stashed. Bulger fled Boston as federal indictments against him were being handed down in 1995, five years after the theft.

Despite the case’s frustrations, Kelly said he remains hopeful that someone who knows where the artwork has been hidden will reach out to law enforcement.

The incentives are considerable. The Gardner Museum has offered a $5 million reward for the return of the paintings in good condition, and the US attorney’s office has stated that it will not bring charges of possession of stolen property against anyone who returns the artwork. The statute of limitations for participation in the actual theft expired five years after the crime.

The case has been steeped in mystery from the start. In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, two men dressed as Boston police officers demanded entry at the side door of the museum, saying they had been called to investigate a disturbance. The night watchman, one of two college students on duty that night, made the grievous error of buzzing them into the museum and compounded it by falling for a ruse that had him stepping away from his security desk and abandoning the museum’s only alarm to the outside world.

After tying the watchmen with duct tape and hiding them in separate spots in the basement, the thieves made their way through the darkened galleries. They spent 81 minutes inside the museum, spending most of their time in the second floor Dutch Room where they snatched the largest number and most valuable of the paintings, including Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,’’ his only seascape, and Vermeer’s “The Concert,’’ valued at $100 million.

However, investigators are still baffled by some of the thieves’ other selections. For example, they grabbed five modestly valued Degas drawings but overlooked Titian’s “The Rape of Europa,’’ perhaps the museum’s most valuable piece.

They also wasted valuable minutes trying to remove a Napoleonic banner from its wooden frame without breaking its glass front, only to end up snatching the golden, eagle-shaped finial from the banner’s flagpole.

Boston police Detective Carl Washington was one of the first police officers to arrive at the museum after the robbery, and he spent hours scouring the crime scene looking for clues among the discarded frames and shards of glass. Washington, who retired from the force in 2005, expressed guarded optimism yesterday on learning that the FBI intended to reexamine some of the forensic evidence in search of a DNA match.

“From what I saw, there was a lot of stuff left behind that could be examined,’’ Washington said. “Maybe one match could give them the break they need. It’s long overdue.’’

It is not clear when the new DNA analysis will be completed, said Special Agent Gail A. Marcinkiewicz. “It all depends on the priority that is given to the request.’’

Stephen Kurkjian can be reached via

Art Hostage Comments:

Good old dependable Steve Kurkjian, he can always be relied upon.

Truth is, the FBI have already had the DNA checked a time ago, quite a time ago in fact, and have the results in their possession.

Trouble is the results will not lead to the current whereabouts of the Gardner art.

Think back to the Grand Jury in December 2007, the guard, and others.

However, twenty years on and no sign of the art, time to give Anthony Amore a call and I am certain he will clarify any questions, and firm up and lingering doubts.

Art Hostage has had a revelation in the last few days and my opinions have been turned on their head.

Anthony Amore stands ready to make the deal, really, I mean it.

Remember all the unanswered questions about the immunity agreement and reward ???

Anthony Amore has detailed the specific conditions and can produce the all important immunity agreement upon request.

I must say I have been too hard on Anthony Amore and for that I am truly sorry, not only for the unwarranted comments, but for doubting his ability to produce the goods.

Anthony, you no Mameluke !!!

Art Hostage is so convinced by the sincerity of Anthony Amore, Art Hostage has an announcement to make.

Here it comes;

"I Art Hostage publicly declare I have no desire to receive any, I repeat any of the reward offered by the Gardner Museum, even if Art Hostage plays a role in securing the return of the Gardner Art.

Furthermore, I want to state here and now, I do not seek or want one dime of any reward money offered for the return of the Gardner art and will work tirelessly to see their return for the sake of the art itself, Vermeer in particular.

A Cathartic moment.

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Museum's Anthony Amore, An Apology !!

It is with deep regret Art Hostage has allowed himself to be affected by what will become known as "Gardner Syndrome"

This condition strikes around March every year and is even more infectious this year as 20 years since the Gardner Heist is marked.

They say March is time for the Hare's to go mad and this year Art Hostage has joined the fray.

First of all I must thank Anthony Amore for sticking with me and allowing me to offer this public apology to him for all the untruths I have expressed.

Whilst it is healthy to have differing opinions, it is unhelpful, especially as shown by Art Hostage, to express them in a nasty, vitriolic manner and does nothing for the common cause, that is recovering the Gardner art.

In regards to Rocky, I have never met him or even spoke to him, so to throw accusations at him as I have done is sheer juvenile, resentful, envy.

To Rocky, I am so sorry to have cast aspersions without foundation.

To the much maligned Charlie Hill, again sorry for casting aspersions.

The intention was to throw a few hand grenades into the ring hoping for a debate that calls for the Gardner art to be recovered without any pre-conditions, a firm, specific reward offer and also a firm immunity agreement offer, made public from the U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz.

As usual my attempt was ill-thought out and clumsy, to say the least.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Stolen Art Watch, Da Vinci Madonna, Breaking News !!!!!!

Painting plot accused 'wanted to negotiate recovery'

Published Date: 02 March 2010

A solicitor from Lancashire accused of being part of a £4.25 million extortion plot said he wanted to negotiate a reward for clients who could help with the recovery of a stolen Leonardo da Vinci artwork, a court heard.

Marshall Ronald from Skelmersdale wrote that he was part of a team that could negotiate the "safe and speedy" return of the precious artwork through "informal mediation".

The High Court in Edinburgh heard the letter, sent in an email in August 2007, was composed around 10 days after he and two other solicitors discussed the legality of trying to secure a reward for the return of the stolen Madonna of the Yarnwinder.

The court heard suggestions from Mr Ronald's defence counsel that there was nothing covert, secret or underhand about the letter.

The details emerged on the second day of the trial of five men accused of plotting in 2007 to extort £4.25 million for the safe return of the painting.

The masterpiece was stolen four years earlier, in August 2003, from Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfriesshire.

In the dock are: Marshall Ronald, 53, from Skelmersdale, Lancashire; Robert Graham, 57, of Ormskirk, Lancashire, and John Doyle, 61, also of Ormskirk.

Also on trial are two Scottish solicitors, Calum Jones, 45, from Kilmacolm, Renfrewshire; and David Boyce, 63, from Airdrie in Lanarkshire. They deny the charges against them. They are not accused of the robbery.

The court was played a tape recording of a meeting said to have involved the five accused at the Glasgow offices of Boyds solicitors on July 30 2007.

Jurors heard how Mr Ronald said an "approach" had been made about the painting and that there was a conversation about the legality of trying to secure a reward for the return of the artwork. He wrote that the clients could bring about the safe delivery of the painting within 72 hours and he sought a "without prejudice" meeting with the loss adjuster.

Stolen Art Watch, Da Vinci Madonna Trial, Day 2

Gardener pursued Leonardo da Vinci raiders

A court has heard how a gardener ran to challenge raiders making off with a masterpiece from a Scottish castle.

John Chrystie, 50, was weeding in the grounds of the Drumlanrig estate when he saw three men with Leonardo da Vinci's the Madonna of the Yarnwinder.

He set off after them until one of them produced a small axe to scare him off.

Five men are on trial in Edinburgh accused of trying to extort £4.25m for the painting's return. They are not charged with the 2003 robbery.

Mr Chrystie, who had worked for the Duke of Buccleuch in south west Scotland for 20 years, said he heard "banging and then alarm bells" on the day of the raid.

He told the High Court in Edinburgh he then saw a man wearing a white sombrero-type hat carrying something square.

The gardener said that from the colours he recognised it as the Leonardo da Vinci painting.

"When I realised what was happening I was going to have a go at one of them and he pulled an axe from his jacket, a small hand axe," he said.

"I veered off and just ran up the banking."

Taped recording

The jury at the trial has also been hearing a taped recording of a meeting involving the defendants in the extortion case.

It took place at Glasgow law offices where two of them were solicitors.

Prosecutors are presenting it as evidence of a conspiracy to extort £4.25m for the safe return of the stolen painting.

Marshall Ronald, 53, Robert Graham, 57, and John Doyle, 61, all from Lancashire, Calum Jones, 45, from Renfrewshire, and David Boyce, 63, from Lanarkshire, deny the charges against them.

They pled not guilty to conspiring to extort £4.25m and an alternative charge of attempted extortion.

The offence is alleged to have taken place between July and October 2007.

The trial, before Lady Dorrian, continues.
Art Hostage Comments:

This is what will happen to anyone, I repeat anyone, who tries to either pass information, or hand back any stolen art, unless of course you are ex-police officers like Mick Lawrence and Jurek Rokoszynski (Rocky) who recovered the stolen Turners and were paid £500,000 of the £3.5 million paid to Edgar Liebrucks the German Lawyer, who in turn paid Stevo V the original organiser of the Turner theft.
Turner article here:

Another high profile stolen art recovery was the Titian stolen from Longleat House, home of the Marquis of Bath.
Charlie Hill, yes you've guessed it, another ex-police officer, paid David Dudden £15,000 deposit, which Charlie Hill obtained from the Marquis of Bath, then the Titian was recovered at a bus stop in London, followed by another payment made by Charlie Hill to David Dudden of £85,000 to finalise the transaction.
Titian article here:
Being an ex-policeman allows all sorts of things to happen !!!!!!

Those who may have information about the Gardner art stolen from the Gardner Museum Boston, 1990, take note, this is your fate, the same as the Da Vinci Madonna defendants facing criminal trial, if you so much as offer any slight indication you have credible information.

Anthony Amore has the FBI, Geoff Kelly in particular, on speed dial ready for the time when Anthony Amore receives credible information.

Interesting to note, a Lawyer in the Boston area was approached in the not too distant past and asked for their opinion about handing back the stolen Gardner art.

This lawyer, unlike the Da Vinci Madonna lawyers, said, and I quote:

"Until the Gardner Museum firm up their reward offer, the FBI agree to step aside and Immunity agreements are issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office, do nothing, say nothing and realise the Gardner art is radioactive"

Smart lawyer !!!!!!!!!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Heist, Truth Hurts !!!!

Free The Gardner Art

Freedom of Expression provokes debate that leads to the recovery of
stolen art.

Suppression of opinions only serves to prevent stolen art being recovered.

Police don't investigate art crime at all so the private sector is left to try and fill in.

However, Police stiffle any recoveries of stolen art leaving all art lovers feeling short changed.

Anthony Amore is a good guy and desperately wants the Gardner Art back.

However, Anthony must take his directions from above and is prevented from acting in a transparent manner that would see the Gardner art recovered.

The reward was last reviewed in 1997 when it was increased from $1million to $5 million, so why not inject some incentive and double it to $10 million, especially as the odds of collecting the reward are remote to say the least because of all the traps laid.

Also, we hear the Gardner Museum has raised over $100 million for the new "car buncle on a much loved institution" addition and has over $200 million in the bank.

Why not make a splash, create headlines by offering public immunity and $10 million for the return of the Gardner ????

Why not publically declare a price list of reward for each individual stolen Gardner artwork ???

The Vermeer $5 million, Rembrandt big canvases $1 million each, etc, etc to a total of $10 million.

Then of course if any of these things were to be done it would really make sure the Gardner art comes home, but not on the terms of the FBI and Gardner Museum, which is why we have been waiting for 20 years.

First, the reward is offered by the Gardner Museum for all, i repeat all the stolen Gardner artworks being returned in good condition.

So, if one or two Gardner works were recovered would any reward not be paid, delayed, until all the Gardner art was recovered ??????

How can the Gardner art be in good condition, some were cut from the frames !!!!

These are just two little hooks laid to thwart any reward being collected and until these and other conditions are spelt out publically, no-one, with any sense is going to attempt to hand back
any Gardner art.

The time for acting like sycophants must be declared over and people must be free to say what they have been thinking all these years.

For 20 years it has been expected people suck up to the Gardner Museum without questioning the motives and reward offers made.

For the last few years the Gardner Museum has been paying Rocky over $50,000 a year for his efforts in recovering the Gardner art, without success I might add.

Many people have said the Gardner Museum would do better reading the Stolen Vermeer blog free of charge as they would learn more about the case than paying Rocky $50,000+ a year for junkets.

I want everybody to stand back and look at all those involved in trying to recover the stolen Gardner art, I defy anyone to distiguish between the supposed good guys and the supposed bad guys.

Truth is, the only way to recover the Gardner art is to give in and buy the bloody Gardner art back once and for all.

Until then we must endure the usual bullshit and vague immunity and reward offers that are not worth any paper they may be written on, can't even get it written down on paper for a start !!!!!!

Don't believe me, then hand back just one Gardner artwork and see yourself get arrested, indicted and convicted without any possibility of one dime, never mind $5 million, or $10 million as the reward should be.

One bright shining light in all of this mayhem is the fact Rebecca Dreyfus is going to be involved with the talk on the 15th March.

Hey Becca, don't be lured into being just another sycophant, ask the awkward questions, demand answers, get busy and throw down the gauntlet.

Harold Smith will be there in spirit.

Anthony, a quiet marking of 20 years you said, three radio shows later, bull shit number one.

The reward, total bullshit in its current form, a real number two.

Blimey, I feel so much better now, free to say bull shit when it appears, as it does frequently in the Gardner case.