Reputed mobster suspected in Gardner heist pleads guilty to gun, drug chargesHARTFORD, Conn. — Robert Gentile, the reputed Connecticut mobster the feds believe has information that can crack the decades-old Gardner Museum heist, was working with authorities for 10 months to help track down the purloined paintings before they pinched him on drug and gun charges, all to simply squeeze him for more details, his lawyer said today after Gentile pleaded guilty to all counts.
Hunched over a cane and sitting in a wheelchair, the 76-year-old Gentile admitted to a federal court judge he worked with a co-defendant to deal oxycodone to an FBI informant and that he couldn’t turn down a deal to sell other prescription pills, claiming he “got caught in a trap.”
“I was wrong,” a gruff Gentile said, adding he didn’t want to drag out the court process because of his age and failing health. “I don’t have many more years left to fight the case. I don’t want to cause any more problems.”
Neither Gentile nor prosecutors addressed allegations he knows something about the famous 1990 robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, a claim Gentile has roundly denied even as authorities scoured his Manchester home in February and May. Authorities didn’t find any paintings but instead found a cache of guns, $22,000 and more pills.
But after the hearing, his lawyer, Ryan McGuigan, said Gentile plans to address the accusations fully when he is sentenced on Feb. 6. He added that Gentile worked with authorities for roughly 10 months in the investigation, including testifying before a grand jury, but stressed his client has never known where they were stashed. Thieves stole 13 works of art from the museum, valued at $500 million. Gentile was arrested earlier this year.
“He knew some of the individuals that the government believes may have had something to do with the heist,” McGuigan said, adding that likely, “ninety-nine percent of the people who were involved are dead.
“He is the last, best hope of finding the paintings,” he said of Gentile. “Now he’s paying the price.”
Under his plea, Gentile has agreed to sentencing guidelines of 46 to 57 months in jail, or a maximum just under five years, plus a lifetime of supervised release and up to a $100,000 fine, though the judge is free to set different terms.
Gentile had faced up to 150 years in prison on the nine counts against him.
Reputed Connecticut mobster told federal grand jury he knew nothing about Gardner Museum art heistHARTFORD – Reputed mobster Robert V. Gentile has testified before a federal grand jury probing the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist that he does not know who stole the priceless paintings from the Boston landmark, Gentile’s attorney said today after his client pleaded guilty to drug and weapons charges.
Gentile, according to attorney A. Ryan McGuigan, was questioned by federal prosecutors this year about Boston area crime figures whose names have been linked to the thefts of the 13 paintings, which include works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet.
Gentile was also questioned before the grand jury about Robert Guarente, a Mafia figure who died in 2004 and whose widow said he provided Gentile with a stolen painting before his death, his attorney said.
But McGuigan said Gentile provided nothing to federal officials that will solve the biggest museum theft in history. He said Gentile does not know who committed the crime nor does he know what happened to the paintings in the 22 years since the robbery.
“They were obviously not satisfied with the information that he had,’’ McGuigan said. “But unfortunately, that is all they had.’’
McGuigan spoke with reporters at US District Court here after Gentile pleaded guilty to drug and firearms charges based on the discovery of prescription drugs and six guns by federal investigators when they searched Gentile’s Manchester, Conn., home in February. The Gardner art heist was not mentioned at the hearing. Gentile will be sentenced early next year and could face three or four years in federal prison under a plea agreement.
Gentile, 76, told US District Judge Robert N. Chatigny that he was pleading guilty to six charges because he was guilty of the crimes and because he wanted to end his life without any further interference from federal law enforcement.
“I’m pleading guilty because I am guilty. I am sorry for causing this problem,’’ Gentile said. “I don’t want any more trouble.’’
Gentile, who has chronic health issues, sat in a wheelchair during the hearing. He told the judge, “I want to serve my time and get home. I don’t have many years left.’’
Guarente, a Mafia figure who died in 2004 at age 65, apparently had ties to everyone publicly identified as a person of interest in the heist, according to court records, FBI reports, and State Police documents.
The search of Gentile's home was part of an apparently renewed effort by US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, to solve the Gardner art theft, which has haunted both the museum and law enforcement.
In addition to Gentile’s house, the FBI searched the home of Anthony Carlo, a 62-year-old ex-convict living in Worcester who has a history of art theft.
The Gardner Musuem heist occurred in the early morning of March 18, 1990. Two men posing as police officers conned their way into the museum by telling the two security guards that they were responding to a report of a disturbance. The guards, who violated protocol by letting the officers in, were bound with duct tape. The thieves then spent 81 minutes taking the 13 masterworks.
Federal agents swarmed Gentile’s home again in May in what McGuigan called a veiled attempt to find the stolen paintings. McGuigan said at the time that the FBI got a new warrant allowing the use of ground-penetrating radar to look for buried weapons, but he believed they really were looking for the artwork.
“This is nonsense,” McGuigan said in May. “This is the FBI. Are you trying to tell me they missed something the first time? They’re trying to find $500 million of stolen artwork. ... All they’re going to find is night crawlers.”
Gentile was charged with three weapons crimes that each carried up to 10 years in prison and six drug crimes that carried up to 20 years in prison apiece. He wasn’t supposed to have any guns because of a 1990s larceny conviction.
In court Wednesday, he said he was pleading guilty to avoid the expense and aggravation of a trial. Prosecutors and his defense agreed on sentencing guidelines of 46 to 57 months in prison, but Gentile could face more or less prison time based on a report by probation officials. The sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 6.