Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art, Reality Hightlighted In Bold !!

In this March 21, 1990 file photo, a security guard stands outside the Dutch Room of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where robbers stole more than a dozen works of art by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas, Manet and others, in an early morning robbery. Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham said Tuesday, March 27, 2012, in federal court in Hartford, Conn., that the FBI believes Connecticut inmate Robert Gentile Ć¢??had some involvement in connection with stolen propertyĆ¢?? related to the art heist. Agents have had unproductive discussions about the theft with Gentile, a 75-year-old reputed mobster who is jailed in a drug case.

Feds: Conn. man knows something about stolen art

NEW HAVEN, Conn.—It remains the largest art heist in history, a brazen robbery in which two thieves disguised as police officers walked into Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, disabled two guards and stole masterworks worth more than half a billion dollars.

The 1990 robbery and the recovery of the paintings have puzzled investigators for more than two decades.

Now federal authorities appear to be pinning some hope of solving the mystery on a 75-year-old reputed mobster from Connecticut, Robert Gentile, who is jailed in a drug case.

The FBI believes Robert Gentile "had some involvement in connection with stolen property" related to the art heist, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham said in federal court in Hartford this week. Durham said FBI agents have had unproductive discussions with Gentile about the theft, but didn't elaborate on his allegations.

Gentile's attorney, A. Ryan McGuigan, called the notion preposterous. He said Gentile has lived with his wife in the same small house in a Hartford suburb for 50 years and has no idea what prosecutors are talking about.

"He doesn't know anything about art, he's never been to an art gallery in his life, couldn't tell a Rembrandt from an Elvis painting," McGuigan said in an interview.

Durham spoke at a hearing over whether bail should be set for Gentile in the drug case. A judge ordered Gentile to remain held without bail, saying he's too dangerous.

Prosecutors declined to comment further.

Authorities first approached Gentile about the art heist about two years ago, McGuigan said.

"They're not interviewing him about him actually participating in the heist," McGuigan said. "They may or may have not interviewed him about any knowledge that he may have about the whereabouts of the paintings."

When Gentile offered no information, authorities dispatched an undercover witness to buy prescription drugs from him, McGuigan said.

"They set you up and entrap you and throw you in a federal prison at 75 years old until you'll be tortured enough to talk to them about information that you don't have," McGuigan said.

If Gentile were some type of arch-criminal, he would have figured a way to get the $5 million reward offered in the case, McGuigan said.

Gentile, of Manchester, Conn., and associate Anthony Parente, also 75, were charged last month with selling prescription painkillers that were obtained illegally. Federal agents say they found several guns, ammunition, homemade silencers, a blackjack, three sets of handcuffs, a bulletproof vest, a Taser, ammunition, police scanners and brass knuckles at Gentile's home as well as $22,000 at the bottom of a grandfather clock.

Gentile has not been charged in the art heist.

Prosecutors say Gentile is a member of a Philadelphia crime family. His lawyer denies the mob allegation.

The defense says Gentile, who owned an auto repair business, has a larceny conviction but no history of violent crime. His attorney said he is a devoted family man who left school in the ninth grade and now his health is in serious decline, with back and heart troubles and he can barely walk.

The Gardner museum recently marked the 22nd anniversary of the heist in which thieves struck as Boston finished celebrating St. Patrick's Day. They bound and gagged two guards using handcuffs and duct tape in the early hours of March 18. In a little over an hour, they removed masterworks including those by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet, cutting some of the largest pieces from their frames.

The museum continues to offer a $5 million, no-questions-asked reward. Federal prosecutors, who made a renewed push to recover the paintings in 2010, are offering immunity.

Special Agent Geoff Kelly, the FBI's lead investigator on the Gardner Museum heist, would not comment on Gentile, saying the FBI would refer all questions to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Connecticut.

"The FBI has been aggressively investigating the Gardner heist for 22 years," Kelly said. "The investigation is active and ongoing. The Boston office is currently working with our New Haven office and other offices to pursue all viable leads."

Investigators continue to get strong leads, Kelly said.

"Our tenacity in continuing to pursue this investigation is motivated by the cultural significance of the stolen pieces, and our investigation will not stop until the pieces are recovered."

Authorities have pursued numerous leads over the years that have taken them as far as France and Japan, said Ulrich Boser, author of "The Gardner Heist."

"It's really quite remarkable no one has come forward," Boser said, noting the $5 million reward. "This is just this incredible whodunit."

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Nemesis For Gentile

Feds Believe Mobster, 75, Involved In Gardner Art Heist,0,5558962.story

A federal prosecutor acknowledged in court Tuesday that the FBI believes that 75-year-old Hartford mobster Robert Gentile has information about the world's most sensational art heist, the theft of 13 masterworks from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

"The government has reason to believe that Mr. Gentile had some involvement with stolen property out of the District of Massachusetts," said Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham.

What Gentile, reputedly a sworn Mafia member, does or doesn't know about the March 1990 Gardner job surfaced during a hearing in U.S. District Court in Hartford where he tried, unsuccessfully, to bail himself out of jail while waiting for a trial on a drug arrest in February.

Gentile's lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, said Gentile knows nothing about the stolen art and that the government is denying "a sick, old man" bail because he can't give them information that could solve one of the world's most baffling crimes.

"What is happening, Your Honor, is that the government is asking you to set a punitive bond, to keep him uncomfortable, to torture him," McGuigan said. "He unfortunately doesn't have the information that the government is looking for. But the government believes he does."

Durham implied that Gentile knows something about the Gardner heist when U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny pressed the prosecution on the charge that the government is holding Gentile in a Rhode Island prison to squeeze him into giving up information.

Durham added, without elaboration, that Gentile has had unproductive discussions with the FBI about the missing paintings and that the reason the government opposes his release on bond is because of his involvement in a long list of other crimes, among them an aborted conspiracy to hijack cash shipments leaving the Foxwoods casino in Ledyard.

Gentile, short, white-haired, overweight and leaning on a cane, confronted Durham as he limped out of the courtroom during a recess.

"Lies, lies," Gentile said. "It's all lies."

The Gardner job devastated the art world, and the inability of investigators around the world to find even a hint of the stolen paintings has become an enduring mystery.

Among the pieces stolen were three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a Manet and five drawings by Degas. Two of the paintings — "Storm on the Sea of Galilee," Rembrandt's only known seascape, and Vermeer's "The Concert" — could be worth than more $50 million each in an open market. All the stolen pieces might be worth $50 million or more.

At least two thieves were involved in the theft. They dressed as police officers and used the uniforms to trick one of two museum guards into opening a door at about 1:30 a.m., the end of St. Patrick's Day celebrations in Boston.

The thieves bound the guards with duct tape and, less than 90 minutes later, drove away into the night in a red car. There has been one lead in 22 years, according to the museum. It went nowhere.

Gentile, who lives in Manchester, has been a player in the Connecticut rackets for years, according to police and other sources. He has an arrest record dating to the 1950s, mostly on minor state charges. He served a six-month sentence, once.

Associates believe that if Gentile had even the faintest idea of the location of the paintings, he would have tried to trade it for the $5 million reward years ago.

His most recent arrest, last month, was for selling illegally obtained prescription painkillers. He claims he was using the pills personally for his myriad medical conditions. He was charged with a partner, Anthony Parente, another 75-year-old local underworld figure.

The intensive law enforcement investigation following the Gardner job revealed, according to recently obtained FBI investigative reports, that Gentile was actively involved with a crew of Boston hoodlums in the years immediately after the art theft.

Durham said Gentile was associated with a crew active in Boston and led by Capo Robert Luisi, but associated with Philadelphia's mafia family. It was Luisi who "made" Gentile by inducting him into the Philadelphia family, Durham said in court Tuesday.

When Luisi was arrested and confronted with a long prison sentence for selling cocaine about a decade ago, he implicated Gentile and other alleged members of his crew in a long list of criminal activity, Durham said.

In 1998, Gentile established an elaborate surveillance of the armored cars that he believed were transporting cash from the Foxwoods Resort Casino. Gentile plotted the truck routes and the frequency of pickups, Durham said.

In Gentile's basement, Durham said, FBI agents found police identification materials, uniforms, Tasers and police scanners — devices that criminal gangs often use in armored-car robberies. There also were weapons and ammunition.

In about 2000, Durham said, Gentile approached Luisi about hitting an armored car in Ledyard. Luisi recruited a gang of Boston bank robbers to work with Gentile on surveillance. The Ledyard robbery fizzled when the Boston crew was nabbed in another robbery, Durham said.

Durham said Luisi said Gentile also claimed to have been involved in truck hijackings. For a while, Luisi said, Gentile carried a snub-nosed .38-caliber pistol and a .22-caliber derringer and acted as his bodyguard. Another time, Durham said, Gentile boasted that he would kill Hartford gangster Tony Volpe if Volpe threatened his loan-sharking business.

McGuigan called the allegations lies by gangsters trying to curry favor with the FBI and shorten their own prison sentences.

Chatigny said Gentile was too dangerous to be granted bail.