Man Who Tried to Sell Stolen Art in Los Angeles Gets 4 Years
Meanwhile, police said their investigation led them to a man named “Darko” in Europe. He had allegedly claimed to know the man who had the stolen art. Detectives said that man turned out to be Espinoza.
The strange case of the painting in the private dining room: Trinity College art piece stolen for second time in 21 years
Unlike most rooms at the college, the dining room is also usually locked. Which is why many at Trinity were surprised recently when it became the scene of an unlikely crime.
Sometime between Sunday, Feb. 8, and Tuesday, Feb. 10, someone sneaked into the room and made off with a small painting done in the style of the 18th-century Venetian painter, Francesco Guardi.
The unknown thief cut the canvas from its frame and hustled it out without being detected. There were no signs of forced entry, no alarms were raised.
Police believe the theft was part of a larger spree on the University of Toronto campus. Since Jan. 30, two other paintings have been stolen from nearby buildings, both also cut from their frames.
Just before Christmas, Trinity also lost a large tapestry from its main dining hall, said Sylvia Lassam, the college archivist.
The Guardi look-alike, however, is in a class by itself — though not because of its value. It is not, as police claimed last week, an original. It isn’t worth any grand sum, but it does have history.
Remarkably, it was stolen once before. More than 20 years ago, in January 1994, someone nabbed the same canvas, this time still in its frame, from the same building at Trinity. That theft, too, was part of a larger spree.
According to press reports at the time, Toronto’s Martin Swinton stole the painting, a 36- by 44-centimetre depiction of a Venetian church, along with two other paintings by the Canadian 19th-century artist, Cornelius Krieghoff.
Swinton was eventually charged and convicted for stealing a host of other works, too, including a $5,000 statue of a Chinese warrior on a horse. He lifted that one from the Royal Ontario Museum, where he worked at the time, watering plants.
He was only caught, according to a 1996 report in the Toronto Star, when friends noticed some of their stolen goods in Swinton’s house. He later admitted he had broken into their home when they were on vacation and made off with a pile of their jewelry, along with a Chinese plate and a prayer rug.
Swinton was sentenced to 10 months in jail, the Star reported. Trinity got its paintings back, unharmed. And the Guardi-look-alike hung once more on the college walls.
For years afterward, it was in the senior common room, said Ms. Lassam. But in 1997, the college’s art committee moved it across the hall to the private dining room. It remained there, unmolested, until last week.
“It’s a very pretty little painting,” she said. But it isn’t signed or dated, and is not, in the opinion of appraisers, worth much.
When Toronto Police sent out a press release last week announcing the crime, they said the work was by Guardi himself, and thus potentially valued at tens of millions of dollars.
But Ms. Lassam insists that’s not the case. It is instead, “after Guardi,” she said.
Honestly, if we had a painting that was worth $10-million we would sell it and give students scholarships“Honestly, if we had a painting that was worth $10-million we would sell it and give students scholarships.”
The painting is also far from the only thing to ever go missing from Trinity.
The college, a heap of Gothic revival stonework centred on a beautiful grassy quadrangle, looks like the setting for a British murder mystery. But of late it’s been home more to petty larceny than homicide.
In 2003, the University of Toronto student newspaper noted things “have been known to go walking at the prestigious college.”
At one point, two men strolled out of the college with an antique carved bench, loaded it into their pickup truck and drove away. An antique silver candelabra has also gone missing during Ms. Lassam’s tenure.
Then there’s the tapestry. “That was totally bizarre,” she said.
It was there for the college’s Christmas dinner and the next day it was gone.
“It was hung up quite high on a wall,” she explained. “It would have been heavy and quite difficult to move. We’re completely mystified by it.”
Still, despite the recent rash of thefts, Trinity has no plans to lock start locking its art away, she says.
“We do try to be as careful as we can,” she said. “But we also have made a decision that the things we own are to be enjoyed.”
Part 1: A Decade of Successful Investigations and Recoveries
To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, FBI.gov recently discussed the team’s history, mission, and accomplishments with Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, who manages the Bureau’s art theft program.
Q: How did the Art Crime Team get started?
Magness-Gardiner: The FBI has always had agents who investigated frauds and thefts related to art, but in 2003, there was substantial looting of Iraq’s National Museum in Baghdad. Thousands of works were stolen. Because of the U.S. presence in Iraq at the time, it was clear that somebody would have to investigate. It was also clear that the U.S. government didn’t have a team organized, in place, or with the expertise required to do that kind of investigation. But the need for such a team was apparent, and the FBI took that on. The Art Crime Team was formed a year or so later.
Q: What were those early days like?
Magness-Gardiner: When I first arrived, the team consisted of eight agents located in field offices around the country, as well as three trial attorneys from the Department of Justice assigned to assist with prosecutions. Today, the agent component has almost doubled to 15 men and women. One of the great benefits of having the agents located in so many cities in the U.S. is that we literally cover the country.
Q: Describe some of the team’s accomplishments over the past decade.
Magness-Gardiner: One of our earliest successes was the recovery of a Rembrandt self-portrait valued at $40 million. The painting had been stolen from the Swedish National Museum in Stockholm in 2000. We recovered it during an undercover operation in 2005. Since the Art Crime Team’s creation, we have made more than 11,800 recoveries, and the value of those recovered objects is estimated to be more than $160 million. We have also helped to convict more than 80 individuals for a range of art crimes.
|National Stolen Art File|
Magness-Gardiner: Yes, and particularly since it went online on FBI.gov in 2010. The National Stolen Art File is a database listing art stolen primarily in the United States. To be included in the file, the art must be valued at $2,000 or more, and we require a theft report and a description of the work providing its unique characteristics. Unlike automobiles, for example, art does not have a serial number on it. So we need specific descriptors that allow us to positively identify the works. Most submissions to the file come from local police departments or from victims. Currently there are about 8,000 listings, everything from fine art to collectibles—anything that has a cultural value that can be uniquely identified.
Q: Is there a particular kind of art that is more susceptible to being stolen or forged?
Magness-Gardiner: Unfortunately, it’s an equal opportunity market for thieves and fraudsters. Over the last 10 years we have dealt with everything from fossils stolen from South America to modern art that’s been forged and put on the market in New York. We have investigated cases involving fine art, manuscripts, letters, baseball cards, and textiles from pre-Colombian to modern. Everything that you can imagine that has a monetary value or cultural significance is subject to theft or fakery.
Next: Investigators use team approach, time-tested methods.
Part 2: Dedicated Investigators Use Time-Tested Methods
Part 2 of an interview with Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, manager of the FBI’s art theft program.
Q: Is investigating art crimes different from investigating other types of crimes?
Magness-Gardiner: Much of what we investigate is art theft, which is basically a theft of property. Most of our agents have a background in investigating property theft and interstate transportation of stolen property. So in one sense they are using time-tested investigative methods. It’s the objects they are dealing with that make these cases special. The items are often fragile, so if they are recovered they must be handled with special techniques. We also have to determine if they are authentic. Is this actually the work we are looking for, or is this a forgery?
Q: What kinds of agents are drawn to the Art Crime Team and what backgrounds do they have?
Magness-Gardiner: Some of our agents have a fine art or art history background, or are themselves artists or collectors. But that’s fewer than half of the individuals on the team. The other members have an interest in art, culture, and history—and to my point of view, that is just as significant—and being on the team allows them to expand their knowledge while doing good by investigating thefts or frauds in these areas.
Q: How serious a problem is art crime?
Magness-Gardiner: Here in the U.S., we are a market for all sorts of art. There is a big community of collectors, museums, and dealers. But because we are such a big market for legitimate art, we are also a market for illicit art that is being brought in from other countries. Sometimes the works are stolen from collections, while much of it—artifacts and antiquities—is looted directly out of the ground, which complicates things because often there is no record of it. Objects might come from archeological sites or from poorly inventoried churches and monasteries. These objects, whether in museums, other collections, or in the ground, can be very valuable in a monetary sense, and in their countries of origin they have an even greater value as cultural heritage.
Q: So the Art Crime Team works closely with international law enforcement and other countries?
Magness-Gardiner: Yes. More than half of our cases have some international element. But we also work closely with our domestic law enforcement partners and with the art community in general. We work with foreign governments to identify stolen pieces and attempt to recover them when we can find them in the United States. These are usually items that relate to the history and ethnicity of that culture. When these things are lost, a culture is made poorer for it.
Q: It must be gratifying to return items of such significance to their country of origin.
Magness-Gardiner: It is very satisfying to return things to people, whether to individual victims, institutions, or countries. Many of these objects have great personal significance, and huge institutional significance when a museum or archive is involved. When a country gets something returned, of course this has a great deal of meaning. People are very grateful for our help. We have been very successful in these areas.
Q: And to what do you owe that success?
Magness-Gardiner: A big part of our success is the team approach, because it allows us to work throughout the entire country with a highly trained group of individuals who communicate with each other and are passionate—and determined—about the work they do.
Gang Who Smuggled Antiques Have Been Caught After Being Accused Of Selling Stolen Antique To Support Islamic State Terrorists
Gang who smuggled antiques have been caught after being accused of selling stolen antique to support Islamic State terrorists
Spanish police claim the network were operating out of mosques in Barcelona after they raided a shipment which they believe originated in Egypt.
They added that the gang had gone to great lengths to try and hide what they were smuggling – which included human figurines, animal figurines and small bronze statues worth several hundred thousand euros.
The plundering of antiquities, particularly from the Middle East, has sky-rocketed since the fighting, with much of the money landing in the pockets of terrorists, say archaeologists and international watchdogs.
Treasures: Police have recovered Egyptian relics that were allegedly being sold by the network
Priceless pieces of history snatched from illicit diggings or swiped from museum cases have become one of the four most common commodities – next to drugs, weapons and human beings – to be trafficked by smugglers, according to United Nations investigators.
Iraqis have been urged to protect the nation’s trove of antiquities as assaults waged by the jihadist group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) left relics there at risk from looting.
UNESCO has also reported that in Egypt, terrorist attacks in recent years have targeted pieces of cultural heritage.
Officials from the Spanish civil guard who carried out the operation said they believed money raised was going directly to fund jihadists.
Terrorism: Spanish police believe the money was being used to fund ISIS
Four Egyptian men and one Spanish man were arrested in the city as a result of the police operation that also led to the seizure of 36 pieces of artwork in Valencia, which are believed to have originally come from Egypt.
Experts from the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid say they suspect the antiquities had been looted from sites around the Egyptian towns of Saqqara and Mit Rahina south of the capital Cairo.
They were in a container that came from the northern Egyptian port city of Alexandria and was being shipped to Barcelona.
Arrests: Police held a press conference for an update on the investigation
A police spokesman said: “This gang had gone to extreme lengths to avoid discovery. They operated in a network that was centred around mosques and other venues located in downtown areas in the city of Barcelona.”
They said that the one Spanish man arrested had been a dealer in antiquities who appeared to be the gang”s local contact and who was supposed to sell the items on the black market.
Those arrested face charges of smuggling cultural goods, money laundering, and membership of an international criminal organisation.
Spanish police also confirmed that they were stepping up monitoring ports, airports and border control points following fears that there would be an increase in similar types of smuggling in particular with regards to shipments from the Middle East where conflicts are being fought.
Gauguin Painting Is Said to Fetch $300 Million
Thief may not know value of stolen paintings worth £100,000 say policeThieves who stole two paintings worth £100,000 may not recognise the value of their haul, according to police.
The artworks by celebrated St Ives painter Bryan Pearce were taken from an isolated cottage in West Cornwall last month.
Police say they are keeping an open mind, but do not initially believe that the works by the artist were stolen to order or taken by a specialist art thief.
A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall Police said two cottages had been raided where near to Zennor, which is a tiny village on the cliff tops between St Ives and St Just.
The thief had forced open a ground floor window and search both premises, taking nothing from one but four paintings from another, including the two works by Pearce, White Jug and Catkins and Portreath, both painted in 1960 and worth an estimate £50,000 each.
Pearce, who died in 2007, was recognised as one of the UK's leading naive artists whose flat style featuring bright colours and heavy outlines might appear almost childish to someone unaware of his work.
As a result, the police spokesman said: "It is possible the thief does not know the value of what they have."