Vermeer's The Concert

Vermeer's The Concert

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Heist 24 Years & Counting !!


On Remand: Stolen Art Disappears Into The Starry Night And A Lawyer Goes To Prison



http://abovethelaw.com/2014/03/on-remand-stolen-art-disappears-into-the-starry-night-and-a-lawyer-goes-to-prison/

At 1:24 a.m. on March 18, 1990, as St. Patrick’s Day festivities wound down in Boston, two men dressed as police officers rang the buzzer at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood. Eighty-one minutes later, they vanished, taking eleven paintings and two artifacts with them. None of the stolen works — worth at least $500 million today — has ever been recovered. This week, On Remand looks back at the Gardner heist and another set of stolen paintings that found their way back the rightful owner — landing an attorney in prison in the process….

The Gardner heist began when two men claiming to be police officers investigating a disturbance in the courtyard were admitted to the museum without question by the on-duty security guard. The imposter policemen then tricked the guard into stepping away from his alarm button and summoning the other on-duty guard. After taping the guards’ hands, feet, and heads (leaving holes to breathe), the burglars handcuffed the guards to pipes in the museum’s basement. With the guards disabled, the burglars disconnected the museum’s video cameras. No one would discover what happened next until 8 a.m., when the morning shift of employees arrived.
That morning, Gardner staff and police discovered what remains the largest property crime in U.S. history. In the Dutch room, a Rembrandt self-portrait, which the thieves had unsuccessfully tried to pry from its frame, laid discarded on the floor. Two frames — the former homes of Rembrandt’s The Storm on the Sea of Galilee and A Lady and Gentleman in Black — hung haphazardly without their contents, which had been cut out. A Vermeer and a Govart Flinck painting were missing. Elsewhere in the museum, five Degas drawings, a Manet, a bronze eagle from the top of a Napoleonic flag, and a Chinese vase were also gone.
The burglary was beyond perplexing. The thieves operated with a strange mix of professionalism and amateurism. Their method of entry, treatment of the guards, and disabling of the museum’s security cameras suggested they were professionals. Yet, only amateurs would risk spending nearly an hour and a half in the museum (and, according to motion trackers still active throughout the burglary, spend only half that time stealing art). The thieves’ eclectic mix of stolen artwork — Dutch, Asian, and Napoleonic — appeared to have no connection, and they vastly devalued the two Rembrandts by cutting them out of the frames. The thieves also left the museum’s most valuable painting, Titian’s Europa, hanging on the wall.
The crime remains unsolved, the theories as perplexing as the heist itself. Those theories include the involvement of the Irish Republican Army or possibly Whitey Bulger, the Boston mob boss and FBI informant. Another theory posits that New England art thief, Myles Connor, asked an associate to make the steal.
Contrary to the Gardner heist, and Hollywood’s treatment of other art heists, most stolen art is taken without drama: museum employees simply walk off with artwork in storage or opportunists snag small pieces from the homes of collectors. Art thieves typically are not sophisticated criminals in bowler hats. Such was the case with a 1978 break-in in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. After Michael Bakwin left town for the Memorial Day weekend in 1978, his house was broken into and seven paintings were stolen, including a valuable Cézanne. The investigation quickly focused on David Colvin, a small-time career criminal who was already in trouble with the law on an unrelated firearms charge.
The day before his hearing in the firearms case, Colvin arrived at his lawyer’s office with a bag containing the paintings stolen from the Bakwin home. According to his attorney, Robert M. Mardirosian:
He was going to bring them to Florida to fence them, but I told him that if he ever got caught with them with the other case hanging over his head, he’d be in real trouble…. So he left them upstairs in my attic in a big plastic bag.
In February 1979, Colvin was shot and killed over a $1,500 poker debt, stalling the investigation into Bakwin’s stolen paintings. A few months later, though, while cleaning the attic, Mardirosian rediscovered the paintings. He didn’t contact the authorities. He didn’t call Bakwin. Instead, he researched the best way to make a profit….

As Mardirosian quickly discovered, profiting from stolen art is not easy. Instead of selling it, thieves (or their bosses) often use valuable pieces as collateral in drug deals or hold the art in hopes of creating leverage if (or more likely, when) they are charged with other crimes. Mardirosian, who was experienced in criminal defense but not criminal fencing, sat on the paintings for twenty years.
Finally, in 1999, Mardirosian, perhaps bored with his still life, tried selling the Cézanne. To remain anonymous, he set up a shell corporation and hired an intermediary in London. But when the intermediary sought insurance to ship the painting, the insurer contacted the Art Loss Register, a private organization that maintains a database of stolen paintings. The ALR effortlessly identified the art as the Cézanne stolen from the Bakwin home and notified British and American authorities. Seeing an opportunity for itself as well, the ALR reached an agreement with Bakwin to recover the seven stolen paintings for a commission. The investigation, which had virtually stopped at Colvin’s death, was back on.
Meanwhile, Mardirosian blundered on, demanding $15 million from Bakwin for the return of the art. Bakwin initially refused, but then had a change of heart. To save the Cézanne, he sacrificed the other six paintings (together worth about $1 million), agreeing to convey those to the still-anonymous Mardirosian. Mardirosian, now represented by a new intermediary who was (of course) also a lawyer, agreed. Mardirosian’s attorney Bernard Vischer met with Julian Radcliffe, the founder and chairman of the Art Loss Register, in Geneva to execute the agreement. They were accompanied by experts from Sotheby’s to verify the painting’s authenticity.
As recounted in the First Circuit’s later opinion:
Vischer spoke with someone on his cell phone, and then announced that he would retrieve the Cézanne and bring it to the boardroom. He left the room and headed to the front of the building, with Radcliffe and others in tow. Once outside, Vischer walked to a nearby corner. A white car pulled up beside him, and the back passenger window lowered. A passenger in the backseat, his face shrouded from view, handed Vischer a black trash bag. The car sped away. Vischer returned to the boardroom and handed the trash bag to the experts from Sotheby’s, who carefully opened it to reveal the stolen Cézanne.
With his part of the 1999 Agreement satisfied, Mardirosian received a bill of sale purportedly transferring title in the other six paintings. He also agreed to sign an affidavit — using his real name — swearing that he was not involved in the original theft. The affidavit was sealed and sent to the London-based law firm Herbert Smith for safekeeping.
Mardirosian continued to work on selling the remaining six paintings. After Bakwin refused to pay $1 million for them, in 2005, working through a new intermediary (a real estate developer this time), Mardirosian offered the pieces to Sotheby’s. Sotheby’s, predictably, called the Art Loss Register to check the arts’ provenance. The ALR identified the paintings as those stolen from Bakwin, but seeing an opportunity to collect on its commission, the ALR instead told Sotheby’s that title was clear. When the paintings arrived in London, Bakwin sued to stop the sale. In the course of the case, the affidavit was unsealed, revealing Mardirosian as the seller.
Soon after, Mardirosian was indicted in the U.S. under §2315 of the National Stolen Property Act, which makes it a crime to receive or possess stolen goods worth $5,000 or more that have crossed a U.S. boundary. In his defense, Mardirosian argued that the 1999 Agreement (which allegedly gave Mardirosian title to the six paintings in exchange for the Cézanne) terminated his illegal possession, and in the intervening eight years, the statute of limitations had run. In affirming his conviction, the First Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the argument — contracts for illegal purposes are never valid:
The 1999 Agreement was illegal in that Mardirosian conditioned the return of the stolen Cézanne on Bakwin’s relinquishment of title to the six paintings. We tread no new ground in declaring that the act of demanding a fee for the return of stolen property is unlawful.
Mardirosian was sentenced to seven years, assessed a $100,000 fine, and disbarred. In a later civil case, Bakwin and the ALR won $3 million in damages from Mardirosian for all their trouble. Perhaps being both disbarred and behind bars has changed his tune, but before his 2007 criminal trial, Mardirosian had this to say for himself:
I know some things don’t look good here, but I believe I have a legitimate case to make…. I could have sold these a dozen times, but never did. My whole intent was to find a way to get them back to the owner in return for a 10 percent commission.
To be sure, some things don’t look good here for Mardirosian. But they are looking up for Bakwin, who sold his Cézanne for $29 million shortly after reacquiring it in 1999. Meanwhile, because Mrs. Gardner’s will requires the Gardner to remain exactly as it was the day she handed it over, empty frames and blank spots greet the museum’s guests where the Rembrandts and the other stolen works used to hang. Last year, on the heist’s anniversary, the FBI issued a press release announcing that it knew the identities of the thieves, as well as the arts’ location in the years immediately after the theft. The arts’ current location remains unknown, however, and the Gardner’s $5 million reward for information leading to the return of its stolen works is unclaimed. The field is crowded, so bring your “A” game and join the professional art investigators, petty criminals, psychics, and the rest of the motley crew hoping to capitalize on the Gardner’s misfortune.
Inside The Gardner Case [ARTnews]
Ripped From the Walls (And The Headlines) [Smithsonian]

Samantha Beckett (not her real name) is an attorney with more than ten years of experience working in Biglaw. When not traveling back in time, she is most likely billing it. Her writing has been featured in state and federal courts across the nation and in the inboxes of countless clients, colleagues, and NSA analysts. She can be reached at OnRemand@gmail.com.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Stolen Art Watch, Gardner Art Heist, Myles J. Connor Jr Steps Back Into The Limelight


http://blogs.artinfo.com/artintheair/files/2014/02/dt.common.streams.StreamServer.jpeg

Infamous art thief revisits criminal past in Ellsworth

ELLSWORTH, Maine — It has been nearly 50 years since notorious criminal Myles J. Connor Jr. stepped foot inside the old brick building at 40 State St.
The last time he was there, when it was the old Hancock County Jail, he confronted a jail guard with a bar of soap he had blackened with shoe polish and carved into the shape of a gun. He used the fake firearm in a brazen escape from the jail that earned him five days of freedom — two of which he spent hiding in the attic of the Ellsworth Public Library — before he was snagged in a manhunt in the neighboring town of Hancock.
Now 71 years old and a resident of Blackstone, Mass., Connor was back at the old Ellsworth jail on Wednesday with a documentary film crew, recounting his first major criminal incident in a decades-long career of flamboyantly breaking the law. Balding with gray hair, he wore a long beige winter coat to stay warm inside the chilly building.
“I had no idea the commotion that I started by this stunt,” Conner said Wednesday of his daring summertime jail break in Hancock County when he was 22 years old. “And of course they had helicopters and guys with bloodhounds and the whole thing after me.”
Connor first gained attention in the 1960s as leader of a Boston-area rock band called Myles and the Wild Ones. He added to his reputation over the years with several high-profile art thefts and, though he was in prison at the time, has been linked to the infamous 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist in Boston. He also has been accused of assaults, drug trafficking, shooting a police officer, and of murdering two Boston women in 1975, the last of which he eventually was acquitted.
On Wednesday, Connor recounted how while visiting relatives 49 years ago in Sullivan, he was captured after police caught him stealing antiques from a local dead woman’s house. A copy of his 2009 book, “The Art of the Heist,” lay on a table in the old jail booking room while cameras recorded Connor looking in a dusty jail cell and talking to relatives of Merritt Fitch, the sheriff who ran the jail at the time of his escape.
Dorothy “Dot” Fitch, the wife of the now-deceased former sheriff, said she cooked hot meals for inmates at the jail, including Connor.
“This is the first time I’ve seen him since I saw the back of him running out the door,” she said.
Ernest Fitch, the sheriff’s son and himself a former detective with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, said he was in the attached house where his family lived when Connor escaped. Recalling the commotion, he said his father got on the phone and called for assistance after Connor ran down the hill and jumped into the Union River.
“He said ‘Bring in the bloodhounds — we’re going to need them,’” the former detective said.
Connor, whose grandfather was from Sullivan, used to travel in the summers from Milton, Mass., where his father was a police sergeant, to visit his grandfather’s family. He already had developed an interest in acquiring art and antiques when, one July night in 1965, he heard his relatives talking about a neighbor.
“I was at the dinner table at my granduncle’s house and I remember them talking about how sad it was that Mrs. so-and-so had passed on and her children were going to get everything that she had and she despised her children,” Connor said. “Being aware there was this house filled with antiques and stuff, I decided to take a look.”
Connor went to the dead woman’s house and was carrying a grandfather clock out to his car when a sheriff’s deputy, responding to a tip, pulled into the driveway. But it wasn’t the clock in his hands that worried Connor when he saw the officer, he said.
“In the trunk of my car I had some [illegal] firearms, heavy-duty firearms that I had brought up to Maine to do some target practice with,” Connor said. “They were machine guns.”
Connor got into a “tussle” with the deputy, snatching away his gun and shooting out the communications radio in the cruiser before he drove off in his own car. He was apprehended a short distance away on Route 1 by other officers responding to the call.
He was taken to the Ellsworth jail but soon hatched his escape plan. Officials would not let him out on bail, he said, and he was desperate to get back to his apartment in Revere, Mass.
“Back in Revere, my apartment was filled with high-quality antiques,” Connor said.
Among them was a silver plate made by Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere that had been stolen from Harvard University’s Peabody Museum. He was concerned that people he knew back home would help themselves to the valuables while he was locked away in Maine.
“It was paramount that I get out and get down there,” Connor said. “That was the reason for the desperate act.”
So about 8 p.m. July 26, 1965, Connor sprung into action. He brandished the blackened soap at a guard, knocked him down and ran out through the booking room entrance, down the hill behind the jail and jumped into the Union River. After seeing people with flashlights on the far side of the river, he swam back to the eastern bank and ran into the library, next to the jail.
“I reposed in the library for two days,” Connor said.
He found a ladder and hatch that led into the attic and crawled up, kicking the rolling ladder away as he went.
Two days later, he snuck out of the library, walked east a few blocks through Ellsworth and then followed railroad tracks east toward Hancock. He lived in the woods for a few more days until, after being spotted a few times, he ended up being caught in a police dragnet.
This time he was taken to Penobscot County Jail in Bangor and, after posting $15,000 bail, went back to Massachusetts, where he got into more trouble that kept him from ever returning to Maine to serve time.
In the decades since, Connor has been connected with a 1974 theft of Wyeth paintings from the Woolworth estate in Monmouth, Maine; a 1975 theft of paintings from the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College; and a 1975 daylight robbery of a Rembrandt painting from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, among other capers.
More recently, he has been implicated in more petty crimes — a 2011 sunglasses shoplifting attempt and a 2012 drug-related robbery of a cellphone, both in Woonsocket, R.I., and a 2011 hay theft in Mendon, Mass.
Connor is free after serving time in prison for his crimes. He was incarcerated in Walpole, Mass., on assault and attempted murder charges, and in Illinois for drug offenses and illegal transportation of stolen art.
When asked Wednesday about the infamous, unsolved Gardner Museum heist, Connor repeated what he has said in other previously published reports: that the theft, which netted 13 works of art now estimated to be worth up to $500 million, was his idea but that it was carried out by two associates of his who have since died. He added that he believes the stolen artworks are now in Saudi Arabia, “probably in some wealthy sheik’s basement.”
FBI officials announced last year that they have identified who the thieves were, but they declined to release names, saying the case is still under investigation. Other people with highly publicized criminal records have been linked to the Gardner heist, but none ever has been charged in the crime.

 Myles J. Connor Jr. (right) holds a bar of soap carved into the shape of a gun Wednesday as Al Dotoli, a longtime friend who accompanied Connor on his visit, holds up his hands in mock alarm at the old Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth. Connor, a notorious art thief, escaped from the jail in 1965 by using the fake firearm to fool a jail guard.
Myles J. Connor Jr. (right) holds a bar of soap carved into the shape of a gun Wednesday as Al Dotoli, a longtime friend who accompanied Connor on his visit, holds up his hands in mock alarm at the old Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth. Connor, a notorious art thief, escaped from the jail in 1965 by using the fake firearm to fool a jail guard.
 A bar of soap blackened with shoe polish and carved into the shape of a small gun sits in the bottom of a glass jar at the old Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth on Wednesday. Notorious art thief Myles J. Connor Jr, who was in Ellsworth this week to recount his criminal past, used the fake firearm to escape from the jail in 1965.
A bar of soap blackened with shoe polish and carved into the shape of a small gun sits in the bottom of a glass jar at the old Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth on Wednesday. Notorious art thief Myles J. Connor Jr, who was in Ellsworth this week to recount his criminal past, used the fake firearm to escape from the jail in 1965.
 Myles J. Connor Jr., of Blackstone, Mass., stands in the doorway of a cell Wednesday in the old Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth. Connor, a career criminal and infamous art thief, escaped from the jail in 1965 by using a bar of soap he blackened and carved into the shape of a gun.
Myles J. Connor Jr., of Blackstone, Mass., stands in the doorway of a cell Wednesday in the old Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth. Connor, a career criminal and infamous art thief, escaped from the jail in 1965 by using a bar of soap he blackened and carved into the shape of a gun.
 Myles J. Connor Jr., 71, of Blackstone, Mass., is recorded by a documentary film crew in the old Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth on Wednesday. Connor, an infamous art thief, revisited the jail to recount how he used a bar of soap carved into the shape of a gun to escape from the jail in 1965.
Myles J. Connor Jr., 71, of Blackstone, Mass., is recorded by a documentary film crew in the old Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth on Wednesday. Connor, an infamous art thief, revisited the jail to recount how he used a bar of soap carved into the shape of a gun to escape from the jail in 1965.

Infamous art thief revisits criminal past in Ellsworth



Myles J. Connor Jr., right, holds a bar of soap carved into the shape of a gun Wednesday as Al Dotoli, a longtime friend who accompanied Connor on his visit, holds up his hands in mock alarm at the old Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth. Connor, a notorious art thief, escaped from the jail in 1965 by using the fake firearm to fool a jail guard.
ELLSWORTH — It has been nearly 50 years since notorious criminal Myles J. Connor Jr. stepped foot inside the old brick building at 40 State St.

The last time he was there, when it was the old Hancock County Jail, he confronted a jail guard with a bar of soap he had blackened with shoe polish and carved into the shape of a gun. He used the fake firearm in a brazen escape from the jail that earned him five days of freedom — two of which he spent hiding in the attic of the Ellsworth Public Library — before he was snagged in a manhunt in the neighboring town of Hancock.
Now 71 years old and a resident of Blackstone, Mass., Connor was back at the old Ellsworth jail on Wednesday with a documentary film crew, recounting his first major criminal incident in a decades-long career of flamboyantly breaking the law. Balding with gray hair, he wore a long beige winter coat to stay warm inside the chilly building.
“I had no idea the commotion that I started by this stunt,” Conner said Wednesday of his daring summertime jail break in Hancock County when he was 22 years old. “And of course they had helicopters and guys with bloodhounds and the whole thing after me.”
Connor first gained attention in the 1960s as leader of a Boston-area rock band called Myles and the Wild Ones. He added to his reputation over the years with several high-profile art thefts and, though he was in prison at the time, has been linked to the infamous 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist in Boston. He also has been accused of assaults, drug trafficking, shooting a police officer, and of murdering two Boston women in 1975, the last of which he eventually was acquitted.
On Wednesday, Connor recounted how while visiting relatives 49 years ago in Sullivan, he was captured after police caught him stealing antiques from a local dead woman’s house. A copy of his 2009 book, “The Art of the Heist,” lay on a table in the old jail booking room while cameras recorded Connor looking in a dusty jail cell and talking to relatives of Merritt Fitch, the sheriff who ran the jail at the time of his escape.
Dorothy “Dot” Fitch, the wife of the now-deceased former sheriff, said she cooked hot meals for inmates at the jail, including Connor.
“This is the first time I’ve seen him since I saw the back of him running out the door,” she said.
Ernest Fitch, the sheriff’s son and himself a former detective with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office, said he was in the attached house where his family lived when Connor escaped. Recalling the commotion, he said his father got on the phone and called for assistance after Connor ran down the hill and jumped into the Union River.
Connor, whose grandfather was from Sullivan, used to travel in the summers from Milton, Mass., where his father was a police sergeant, to visit his grandfather’s family. He already had developed an interest in acquiring art and antiques when, one July night in 1965, he heard his relatives talking about a neighbor.
“I was at the dinner table at my granduncle’s house and I remember them talking about how sad it was that Mrs. so-and-so had passed on and her children were going to get everything that she had and she despised her children,” Connor said. “Being aware there was this house filled with antiques and stuff, I decided to take a look.”
Connor went to the dead woman’s house and was carrying a grandfather clock out to his car when a sheriff’s deputy, responding to a tip, pulled into the driveway. But it wasn’t the clock in his hands that worried Connor when he saw the officer, he said.
“In the trunk of my car I had some (illegal) firearms, heavy-duty firearms that I had brought up to Maine to do some target practice with,” Connor said. “They were machine guns.”
Connor got into a “tussle” with the deputy, snatching away his gun and shooting out the communications radio in the cruiser before he drove off in his own car. He was apprehended a short distance away on Route 1 by other officers responding to the call.
He was taken to the Ellsworth jail but soon hatched his escape plan. Officials would not let him out on bail, he said, and he was desperate to get back to his apartment in Revere, Mass.
“Back in Revere, my apartment was filled with high-quality antiques,” Connor said.
Among them was a silver plate made by Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere that had been stolen from Harvard University’s Peabody Museum. He was concerned that people he knew back home would help themselves to the valuables while he was locked away in Maine.
So about 8 p.m. July 26, 1965, Connor sprung into action. He brandished the blackened soap at a guard, knocked him down and ran out through the booking room entrance, down the hill behind the jail and jumped into the Union River. After seeing people with flashlights on the far side of the river, he swam back to the eastern bank and ran into the library, next to the jail.
“I reposed in the library for two days,” Connor said.
He found a ladder and hatch that led into the attic and crawled up, kicking the rolling ladder away as he went.
Two days later, he snuck out of the library, walked east a few blocks through Ellsworth and then followed railroad tracks east toward Hancock. He lived in the woods for a few more days until, after being spotted a few times, he ended up being caught in a police dragnet.