Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Heist, Wittman, Whisker Away From Recovery !!! Update !!!


Turf war may have ruined Gardner heist lead

Ex-agent says FBI was on right trail

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2010/04/04/infighting_ruined_gardner_case_lead_retired_fbi_agent_writes_in_book/

The FBI was on the trail of recovering the principal masterpieces stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum from a criminal gang in Corsica two years ago only to have its efforts dashed, in part because of bureaucratic infighting among federal agents and supervisors.

That is the conclusion of a nonfiction book written by a now-retired FBI special agent who posed undercover in 2006 and 2007 as a wealthy art collector interested in purchasing several of the paintings through two Frenchmen who had alleged ties to the Corsican mobsters. The French intermediaries said they could deliver the stolen Vermeer, valued at more than $100 million, and at least one of the two large Rembrandts that were taken. They were among the 13 pieces, now valued at $500 million, stolen in what is considered the largest art theft in history.

As detailed in his soon-to-be released book, “Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures,’’ Robert K. Wittman says he believed from French wiretaps and his covert dealings with the two French intermediaries that the Corsican mob did have control of the stolen artwork. A special agent for 20 years, Wittman established the FBI’s Art Theft unit and is credited with recoveries of hundreds of millions of dollars of art and antiquities during his ca reer, many of which he recounts in his book, along with his experiences on the Gardner case.

If true, the disclosures provide the first real clues as to what happened to the 11 paintings and drawings, plus an ancient Chinese vase and a finial, stolen out of the Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990.

Wittman, who retired from the FBI and now works as a private security consultant, could not be reached for comment. A spokeswoman for his publisher, Crown Publishers in New York, said he would not be giving interviews until the book goes on sale in June. As recently as a month ago, FBI agents who have spent the last 20 years investigating the thefts were quoted as saying that they have never received “proof of life’’ evidence from any of the tipsters that they had possession or access to the stolen goods.

The FBI, according to officials, is reviewing Wittman’s manuscript for possible disclosure of secrets that could be damaging to ongoing investigations or national security. Special Agent Gail A. Marcinkiewicz, spokeswoman for the Boston office of the FBI, declined to respond to questions on the substance of the Corsican investigation — tagged Operation Masterpiece by the FBI — or Wittman’s criticisms of the FBI’s overall handling of the inquiry. Instead, in a statement Friday, she said: “Per DOJ [ Department of Justice] policy, the FBI does not comment on any ongoing, pending investigations. The FBI remains dedicated and committed to this investigation with the ultimate goal being the recovery and return of the stolen artwork to the Gardner Museum.’’

Until now, the FBI has attributed that failure to the perpetrators’ continued fear of prosecution, despite repeated pledges by federal authorities that they would not be charged if they returned the stolen items in good condition. They would also be eligible to collect the $5 million reward being offered by the museum for the return of the paintings and other art pieces.

However, Wittman contends that the lead he worked on beginning in late 2006 — which he describes as the first credible tip received by the FBI — was sabotaged by the reluctance of FBI officials to overrule the FBI supervisory agent on the Gardner investigation who refused to allow Wittman to make his own decisions on the Corsican case.

Instead, the supervisor, who is only identified in the book as “Fred,’’ micromanaged Wittman’s interactions with the two French intermediaries even though he was unfamiliar with overseeing an undercover operation. At one point, Wittman writes, Fred tried to get Wittman thrown off the case by sending an official memorandum to FBI chiefs in Washington questioning whether Wittman was trying to delay completing the investigation until retiring so he could win the $5 million reward as a private citizen.

http://stolenvermeer.blogspot.com/2007/01/theres-new-sheriff-in-town-he-goes-by.html

In addition, Wittman writes, Fred — who had never before traveled to a foreign country on official business — was quick to offend his counterparts in French law enforcement on the investigation, seeking to assert the FBI’s control of the case even though many of the dealings were to take place inside France.

http://stolenvermeer.blogspot.com/2007/01/theres-new-sheriff-in-town-he-goes-by.html

Despite his pleas, Wittman writes, FBI officials refused to wrest control of the investigation from Fred because of the historic reluctance of those at FBI headquarters to overrule the decisions of the agency’s local supervisors. French authorities also weakened the thrust of the investigation by mandating that a French intelligence officer work undercover with Wittman and by refusing at one key point to allow one of the two intermediaries to enter France for a meeting because he was a fugitive wanted in France on another crime.

http://stolenvermeer.blogspot.com/2007/01/theres-new-sheriff-in-town-he-goes-by.html

“Bureaucracies and turf fighting on both sides of the Atlantic had destroyed the best chance in a decade to rescue the Gardner paintings,’’ Wittman writes. “We’d blown an opportunity to infiltrate a major art crime ring in France, a loose network of mobsters holding as many as 70 stolen masterpieces.’’

Despite his criticisms of the investigation, the key question that emerges from Wittman’s book is whether the lead was a legitimate one. Did the French intermediaries — a fugitive accountant named Laurenz Cogniat and his associate, identified only as Sunny — have real ties with Corsican mobsters and did those mobsters have control of the paintings? Or was the pair just trying to pull a scam on Wittman, who had told them that he was able to put up millions to buy the Gardner paintings?

Wittman says he believed he was on track to recover the Gardner paintings after French police told him that they had spotted Sunny meeting with Corsican mobsters in Marseilles and Sunny had been heard on wiretaps speaking of “frames for Bob.’’ Wittman’s undercover name was Bob Clay.

But while the three met repeatedly over a two-year period in France, Spain, and in the United States, Wittman had trouble focusing the intermediaries’ attention on closing the deal for the Gardner paintings. Wittman dropped out of the case in early 2008 when Sunny approached him to see whether he was interested in buying four paintings that had just been stolen from a museum in Nice. Wittman turned the lead over to another FBI undercover agent. Sunny was subsequently arrested in the deal, ending Wittman’s hopes of using him as a conduit for recovering the Gardner paintings.

Wittman ends his book recounting a wistful conversation he had with Pierre Tabel, then the chief of France’s National Art Crime Squad, about their efforts over the previous two years to recover the Gardner paintings.

“Pierre,’’ Wittman asks him, “do you think we had a chance? For the paintings?’’

“Absolutement,’’ Tabel responded. “We have a good idea who has them. We know to whom Sunny was speaking. But now that we arrest Sunny . . . the case is gone. We will not have this chance again for many years.’’

Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at kurkjian@globe.com.

Art Hostage Comments:

Again good old dependable Steve Kurkjian can be relied upon to put out the official FBI line.

Art Hostage can confirm some of this and more because Bob Wittman did have a chance leading up to the arrest of Bernard Ternus, who is referred to as Sunny in the article.

This all stemmed from the investigation into the armed robbery at the Museum in the South of France when four paintings were stolen and Bob Wittman infiltrated the gang and negotiated with Bernard Ternus, who is still in jail in Miami.

Bob was also on the trail of the huge Topaz stolen along with other jewels.

Yes, Art Hostage does know who Bernard Ternus(Sunny) was talking too and yes again, they did seek the opinion of Art Hostage to the validity of the approach.

What has not been mentioned was who actually holds the Gardner art in question.

Could it be Jean Marie Messier, who got the two Rembrandt's from Carmen Thyssen after Heini died as she did not want to court controversy and blacken the name of her cash cow/ATM Heini Thyssen???

Anyways, the chance was missed although Bernard Ternus is still trying to offer help in recovering the Topaz and other high value stolen artworks.

Furthermore, Art Hostage can confirm there is immunity on offer from Brian Kelly assistant U.S. Attorney foR Massachusetts and a definite yes, the reward will be paid by Anthony Amore for the return of the stolen Gardner art, part reward for part return of some Gardner art.

However, and this is the real sticking point.

Brian Kelly, to his credit, stood up at the IFAR meeting in New York on the 15th March 2010 and explained how the immunity agreement would work.

Whilst the person coming forward would get immunity, they would lose their right to take the Fifth in any future court case and they would also be required to Rat out anyone and anything they know about the theft and subsequent handling of the Gardner art. For good measure the person coming forward would also be forced to testify against those involved in the Handling of the Gardner Art that's why the FBI offered to protect them. Not from any backlash, but from the FBI demand they testify against those involved.

This is the sticking point, the sting in the tail of anyone coming forward.

However, it must be said at least steps forward are being taken, even if those steps are Baby steps.

No-one with any sense will step forward until the FBI and Brian Kelly make a public assurance that anyone stepping forward does not, I repeat does not have to give any information about the history or those involved in the theft or handling of the Gardner art. Also any immunity agreement must have the right for the person stepping forward to take the Fifth allowed to stay in place.

Furthermore, any suggestions Robert Wittman was waiting until he retired before recovering the Gardner art so he could cash in and collect the $5 million reward is complete utter bullshit.

Robert Wittman was, and still is, regarded as one of the most honourable, decent, honest hard working FBI Agents in the history of the FBI and was the founder of the FBI Art Crime Team.

The current FBI are trying to slur Robert Wittman and this gives no comfort to those who can provide the crucial information that will lead to the recovery of the Gardner art, as it shows the FBI even turn on their own, let alone someone not connected to the FBI.

The French connection is allied to Cigarette smuggling and those who have the Gardner art are not French but do have revolutionary Republican aspirations.

O'h what webs they weave, and until there is joined up thinking anyone with knowledge about the whereabouts of the Gardner art is doing what they have done for twenty years, sit on their hands waiting for the right honest deal to be offered.

So, Sunny is Bernard Ternus, and the in-fighting within Govt Law Enforcement agencies is still as strong as it ever was, thus preventing any recovery of the Gardner art.

A tragic footnote is if this is how bad the co-operation is on an art crime, what chance do the American people have when it comes to the ongoing fight against Terror ???

The inter-agency rivalry that contributed to 9/11 happening and revealed in the 9/11 commission report is still as bad as ever despite what is said through media whores who are nothing more than Yellow Sycophants putting American National Security at risk by their incessant sucking up to the FBI.

Bob, stand firm and tall with the knowledge you tried in all honesty to recover the Gardner art but like many before you and many after you, forces within are preventing an honest recovery.

Everyone is sacred to acknowledge who is the real culprit in this.

Art Hostage as usual is tasked with that and on point yet again.

The man who can end the Gardner art pursuit is Robert Mueller, Director of the FBI and the prosecutor in Boston in the 1980's who was right in the middle of the Whitey Bulger era.

Yes, Robert Mueller knew all about the murders committed by Whitey Bulger and also knew about murders before they happened, thus why the cover-up has been so deep.

Art Hostage has always said when Robert Mueller retires, only then can the FBI start to claim they have cleaned out their closet.

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

Footnote:

The FBI Agent causing the trouble was definitely not Geoff Kelly the lead FBI Agent in Boston tasked with the Gardner case.

Art Hostage can personally vouch Geoff kelly is another one of those rare breed of FBI Agents who are honest, decent, hard working and straight as a gun barrel.

Geoff Kelly follows orders to the letter and is regarded by both the FBI and ironically by criminals he apprehends, as a "Good FBI Soldier" Universally respected by all.

Stuffed shirts within the FBI would not recognise a Vermeer even if they were hit over the head with one of the 36 remaining in the world, and it is they who are responsible for the Gardner art not being recovered.

Bernard Ternus backstory:

http://stolenvermeer.blogspot.com/2008/06/stolen-art-watch-fbi-sting-recovers.html

http://arthostage.blogspot.com/2008/10/stolen-art-watch-french-art-thieves.html

Update:

The Corsican Mafia referred to by Robert Wittman are called
"gang de la Brise de Mer"
including The Valinco band, The Venzolasca band, The Corsican mob of Marseille.

The chance of recovering the Gardner art, referred to by Robert Wittman, has definitely gone, not least because Corsican inter-gang warfare has left Richard Casanova, Daniel Vittini, and Pierre-Marie Santucci dead.

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