Without revealing too much.
Art Hostage reminds those who control or have access to high value stolen artworks, be they paintings or other iconic artworks such as the Fitzwilliam Oriental Jade, you have been warned that as soon as any of these artworks see the light of day Police will swoop and arrests made.
However, that said there may be an initial exchange then the sting in tail with arrests, in a Hong Kong Dick Ellis manner.
To those trying to prevent high value art thefts form occurring, there is no taste in nothing and prevention comes at a price, so if a huge art theft occurs then authorities and the insurance industry have no-one to blame but themselves for being so cheap, wanting to prevent art theft for free.
Degas theft suspects to appear in court next month
THE three men – aged 53, 47 and 48 – held in connection with the theft of an Edgar Degas painting, reportedly worth €6m, as well as a safe containing valuables worth €162,000 from a 70-year-old pensioner’s home in Apeshia, near Limassol, will be brought before the Criminal Court on November 27, it was announced on Friday.
A fourth suspect, a 55-year-old Russian, also held in connection with the case, was released after no evidence was found to justify his detention.
The three men will face charges of conspiracy to commit a crime, burglary and robbery.
The court will decide on Monday on whether they will remain in custody until the trial.
The 53-year-old South African is the person who had initially contacted the painting’s owner, ostensibly to mediate for the sale of the pensioner’s house and part of his art collection, which included the stolen Degas.
The other two, residents of Larnaca who had been known to police for past cases, were arrested last Sunday, when their mobile phone records indicated they had been in the area at the time of the robbery.
It was also found that one of them had two telephone conversations with the 53-year-old during the robbery, and eye-witness testimony confirmed that they resemble two individuals approaching the plaintiff’s house in a car shortly before the robbery.
Witnesses also described the vehicle as one resembling the car owned by one of the two men.
As the painting, entitled ‘Ballerina adjusting her slipper’, remains missing, police continues efforts to locate it.
An investigation into the painting’s authenticity is also ongoing, as a French house specialising on Degas works has suggested it may be a forgery.
The painting was reported stolen by its owner on September 29 along with a metal safe which contained seven gold watches, three pairs of gold opera glasses and 20 cufflinks, estimated to worth around €162,000 in total.
The owner had been at a scheduled meeting to negotiate the sale of his house and part of his art collection at the time of the theft. The Degas was not part of the deal.
Police said the Russian man had shown interest in buying the art collector’s estate along with some of the paintings in his collection and that a viewing had been arranged two weeks before the painting was stolen.
French experts could be asked to weigh in on stolen painting
POLICE want to send investigators to France to take statements from experts on the authenticity or not of the stolen painting believed to be the work of 19th century French Impressionist Edgar Degas.
Investigations into the theft of the painting, which as an estimated value of €6m, from the house of a pensioner in Apeshia in Limassol took an interesting turn after Interpol informed Cypriot police that the painting might be a fake.
Police spokesman Andreas Angelides yesterday said that the authorities were informed by Interpol that experts from a French company dealing specifically with French Impressionist artists came to Cyprus last year to examine the painting, on the owner’s request.
Following an initial examination, the evaluators left open the possibility that the work might be a fake. The 70-year-old owner insists, however, that the artwork is an original Degas inherited by him from his grandmother who lived in Paris.
Angelides said police are seeking the green light from the Attorney-general to send police investigators to France to take statements from this specific company but also to seek assistance from other experts specialising in the work of Degas to help establish whether they are dealing with the real deal or not.
Angelides said police were informed by local experts that there are specific tests you can do on the paint, on the signature etc. to verify its authenticity.
“To do that, you need to have the painting,” he said, noting that at present this is not possible.
The painting is believed to be Degas’ pastel on paper, titled Dancer Adjusting Her Shoe, approximately 47cm by 61cm in size and dated late 19th century.
In the meantime, the police are continuing their investigations, putting the work on a list of stolen artwork to inform other European countries, said the spokesman.
Four people are in remand in relation to the case, three Greek Cypriots, aged 47, 48 and 53, and a 55-year-old Russian. A fifth man, a 44-year-old taxi driver was released on Monday.
The painting was reported stolen by its owner on September 29 along with a metal safe which contained seven gold watches, three pairs of gold opera glasses and 20 cufflinks, estimated to worth around €162.000 in total.
The owner had been at a scheduled meeting to negotiate the sale of his house and part of his art collection at the time of the theft. The Degas was not part of the deal.
Police said the Russian man had shown interest in buying the art collector’s estate along with some of the paintings in his collection and that a viewing had been arranged two weeks before the painting was stolen.
Limerick man arrested in Germany over rhino hornsAN Irishman arrested by German police for trying to sell illegal rhino horns has been named as Michael O’Brien from Rathkeale.
The 29-year-old was detained at Frankfurt airport on Friday, October 1 after he allegedly tried to sell the horns to a number of Chinese men. Two of his customers have also been detained by German police.
It is understood they were arrested for alleged breaches of the Endangered Species Act.
Reports suggest that police swooped after observing the transaction in a hotel lobby.
The men are still in custody in Frankfurt.
A spokesman for An Garda Siochana said they were aware of the arrest of an Irishman in Frankfurt but could not confirm his identity.
“The German police have been liaising with An Garda Siochana through Interpol and the other relevant agencies,” said a spokesman in the garda press office.
In January 2010, Michael O’Brien of Roches Road, Rathkeale and his brother Jeremiah were arrested at Shannon airport with rhino horns worth nearly €500,000.
In March of last year, both men pleaded guilty to charges of illegally importing the horns at Ennis district court.
Michael O’Brien admitted importing four rhino horns to the value of €260,400, while Jeremiah O’Brien pleaded guilty to importing €231,760 of the items.
Dermot Twohig of the Revenue Commissioners told the court that the horns were found in the O’Briens’ luggage after they flew back to Shannon from Faro in Portugal.
Both men were fined €500 each for the offences.
Rhino horns have become an extremely valuable commodity, particularly in parts of Asia where they are used in traditional medicine and as status symbols. It is estimated that rhino horn can fetch up to €60,000 per kilo with a large horn worth over €200,000.
The high prices which can be obtained from their sale, combined with the, to date, relatively lenient penalties if caught, has led to a number of criminal gangs becoming involved in their trade. They have targeted museums, private collections and other premises where antique horns may be stored.
One of the most high profile of these incidents was the theft of eight horns valued at €500,000 from the National Museum of Ireland last April.
In January of this year, the Co Cork home of dancer Michael Flatley was also broken into by criminals who stole an antique horn.
Rathkeale-based criminals have been linked to this lucrative trade. Last September, Gardai and Criminal Assets Bureau officers raided a number of houses in Limerick city and Rathkeale as part of an investigation into the theft of rhino horns and other rare artefacts.
Two other men from the town have also been jailed in the United States for attempting to buy rhino horns from undercover FBI agents.
Europol has been tracking a suspected organised crime gang, which reportedly has strong connections in County Limerick.
The agency has previously warned the gang is one of the most significant players in the illegal global trade in rhino horns.
Sir Kyffin Williams painting stolen from Royal Festival Hall
It is believed the work was taken from the hall at the end of September.
Police said they believe the thief will try to sell the piece.
Det Con Ray Swan, from Scotland Yard's Art and Antiques Unit, said: "I urge anyone who is offered the painting to report the matter to us immediately, or contact us if you know anything about the theft or the painting's whereabouts."
The painting, which was on loan from the Arts Council Collection, had been on display at the centre since November last year.
Heirs Sue Bank Over Sale of Nazi-Looted Art
Overwhelmed U.S. port inspectors unable to keep up with illegal wildlife tradeVictor Gordon’s cramped antiques shop was called “the most unusual store in Philadelphia,” and it more than lived up to its billing.
For nearly a decade, Gordon orchestrated what prosecutors called one of the “most significant and egregious” violations of U.S. laws against trafficking elephant ivory. He paid smugglers to buy ivory from stockpiles in West Africa and sneak it through New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in shipping crates weighing as much as a ton.
It was a low-risk operation for the smugglers. With only six U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service inspectors and four police agents to search millions of shipments that arrive at JFK’s massive cargo facility each year, there was little chance of being caught.
“Our nation hasn’t prioritized wildlife trafficking,” said David Hayes, a former Interior Department deputy secretary who serves as vice chair of an advisory panel for wildlife trafficking formed by President Obama. A major part of the problem, Hayes said, “is the lack of inspections at our ports.”
Fewer than 330 Fish and Wildlife inspectors and agents patrol the largest U.S. ports, about the same number as 30 years ago, when the agency’s law enforcement branch was formed. Since that time, international wildlife trafficking has grown from a small concern into a criminal colossus worth an estimated $20 billion per year, police and economists say — the fourth-largest global black market behind the trades for drugs, guns and humans for sex. The growing revenue has attracted crime syndicates, leaders of rogue armies, and terrorist groups, according to U.S. intelligence reports.
African elephant populations have been reduced by more than half in the past 30 years; nearly the entire black rhino population has disappeared since the middle of the 20th century.
The White House in February unveiled a national strategy to attack wildlife trafficking by increasing cooperation among a half-dozen or so federal agencies, toughening laws and enhancing enforcement. But nowhere does it specifically commit to increasing the thin ranks of inspectors and agents at the ports.
“We don’t have enough people to do what we have to do,” said Paul Chapelle, the special agent in charge of the Fish and Wildlife law enforcement office near JFK Airport. And when they do arrest someone, he said, “you go back and look at the [shipping] manifests, and you see the same people had been doing the same thing for five or 10 years. . . . It happens all the time.”
The detection of the shipping crate that led federal agents to the immigrant smugglers, who led them to Gordon in 2011, was a stroke of luck, essentially the discovery of a needle in a haystack made up of hundreds of thousands of crates.
With a long prison sentence hanging over his head, Gordon admitted to his crime and begged for mercy at a federal court in Brooklyn. “I know I was wrong,” he wrote to a judge.
In a rare victory for wildlife law enforcement, Gordon was sentenced in June to 2½ years behind bars.
Police traced the crate to a smuggler, who after his arrest divulged the names, telephone numbers and bank account numbers of the men who paid him, said Philip Alegranti, a Fish and Wildlife investigator.
Sidime, a native of Guinea, assured the buyer that he was offering one of the hottest products on the black market. “It’s real,” he said about four carved elephant tusks offered for a bargain of $1,200. “It’s real ivory.”
Under the same international treaty that protects elephants, rhino horn cannot be imported or exported without a federal permit, and the sale of anything other than an antique is generally prohibited.
But that is where criminals show up with forged documents claiming residency and false permits that allow them to purchase items. In 2012, members of the Rovers showed up with fake documents and purchased a trophy at an auction outside Dallas. They hacked off the horns and tried to sell them in New York.
Unknown in the United States, the Rovers were infamous in Europe for their snatch-and-grab thefts at museums in Britain and other nations, yanking rhinoceros horn from exhibits, police said. Thanks to gangs such as the Rovers, replicas are used in place of real rhino horns in museums throughout Europe.
“It had ballooned into something bigger than even we expected,” Grace said.
In nearly three years, Operation Crash has logged 21 arrests and 12 convictions, with at least two suspects awaiting trial.
The biggest bust by far involved Vinh Chung “Jimmy” Kha, 49, and his son, Felix, 26, masters of rhinoceros horn smuggling.
Their supply chain included a Texas cowboy, and their smuggling operation included the elder Kha’s girlfriend, the owner of a nail salon, who police say mailed horns to Hong Kong.
Police burst into Kha’s store outside Los Angeles in 2012 and found dozens of horns, shavings from horns, cash and diamonds. The father and son pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to more than three years in prison.
As illegal wildlife trafficking thrived with the growing participation of crime syndicates, army renegades and terrorist groups, Obama issued an executive order in July 2013 “to address the significant effects of wildlife trafficking on the national interests of the United States.”
Four months later, seeking to lead by example, the federal government crushed six tons of ivory that U.S. agents had seized over 25 years and kept in a repository in Commerce City. It set off a chain reaction of crushes from Belgium to Hong Kong.
The White House appointed an advisory panel and a task force of federal agencies to address ivory trading. Their recommendations led to the government’s toughest stance yet on trading ivory: A Fish and Wildlife Service rule enacted in February made selling ivory across state lines and international borders illegal.
As the federal government grappled with loopholes in its laws, states continued to cling to laws that failed to discourage wildlife crimes, prosecutors said. A case in New York was held up as a perfect example of how criminals are largely unpunished.
Mukesh Gupta, 67, and Jung-Chien Lu, 56, who were caught in 2012 with enough ivory to equal 100 dead elephants, a haul worth at least $2 million.
They both pleaded guilty to a single count of illegal commercialization of wildlife. And they both walked away with a fine, forfeiture of the illegally obtained ivory and probation.
“The largest U.S. ivory markets following New York are California and Hawaii, and we will be pursuing efforts in both states next session to ensure they follow New York’s lead,” Pepper said.
“We’re all confident that we could go out today and send investigators into antique shops and trinket shops and find ivory for sale,” said Julieta V. Lozano, the lead prosecutor on the case involving Gupta and Lu.
That case “made us realize there’s a brisk trade,” she said. It also “confirmed for us what we knew: If we had all the resources we needed to make these cases, we could find dozens of shops every month.”
We hear daily about the military successes of ISIS, our targeted airstrikes, and what our President is willing and not willing to do to defeat them. (Such willingness to tell the enemy what plays you won’t run doesn’t seem to me to be the best military strategy. It may be good political strategy, but in football you don’t tell your opponent you’ll never throw a forward pass.) So the lack of information about the economics of ISIS’s funding is puzzling, but let’s hope there is a strategy. If we have the capability of listening in to everyone’s phone conversation and read every email and Facebook post, surely we know the sources of ISIS’s funding and weaponry and are doing something about it.
Despite the administration’s silence on this facet of the war on ISIS, we do know some things. Most articles estimate that ISIS earns $1 to $3 million a day from oil sales – oil coming from lands and refineries they have seized in Iraq and Syria, which is purchased by black market brokers primarily in Turkey. Let us hope no U.S. company, American citizen or ally is participating in these purchases. If they are, let’s hope the administration is putting an immediate stop to it. If the administration won’t do that, I believe we should be told why not.
Another source of money is the sale of antiquities by ISIS after they raid and loot churches and museums in seized territories. I did a lot of research on looting and the sale of stolen antiquities for my novel, When Men Betray. It’s an industry of about $3 billion a year, with a lot of money finding its way into the hands of terrorists and a lot of art finding its way into the homes of Americans and Europeans. That’s right: art collectors and museums who buy stolen antiquities indirectly fund torture and murder. Again, let’s hope the administration is being aggressive with purchasers of stolen art for the sake of the stolen art, but also for the humans who are the ultimate victims of such an outrageous enterprise.
Speaking of outrageous, apparently another major source of ISIS’s funding is the sale of women and children captured in Iraq and Syria. I am not sure what is worse: ISIS selling women and children as sex slaves or the people buying them. The world community should have no stomach for this behavior, and if anyone who buys a human comes into the jurisdiction of the U.S., justice should be swift and certain.
Groups monitoring sources of ISIS’s weaponry report that much of their stash was also acquired by seizing territory, thereby seizing arms supplied by the U.S. to, for example, the Iraqi government and Syrian rebels. Once again, we learn that weapons supplied to allies can easily fall into the hands of our enemies. When will we learn not to be a source of “tools of terror?” The purpose of a bomb is to explode. The purpose of military weapons is to be fired and kill or maim. Until we quit treating weapons as a commodity of profit, we will always have terrorists and and mad men using them for evil.
We can’t undo past mistakes. If it were my call, I would say that U.S. weapons should only be in the hands of U.S. soldiers, but I know that is not realistic, given the vise grip the military-industrial complex has on political decisions in this country.
But if this administration intends to be transparent about our military plans for ISIS, then perhaps we need the same transparency about our economic war plans as well. At minimum, if U.S. corporations are buying “black market’ oil from ISIS’s brokers, let Americans know so that we can stop buying their gas and dump their stock. If other countries or individuals are arming ISIS, let Americans know so that we can stop doing business with those countries. If other countries are turning a blind eye to the sale of antiquities or human beings, let Americans know so that we can boycott products from those countries and encourage U.S. companies to take their business elsewhere.
I don’t need to know our plans to defeat ISIS and believe it might be a better strategy not to know. But I think it would be advisable for our leadership to acknowledge that we are waging war on ISIS economically as well as militarily, and to treat those who support ISIS by buying oil, weapons, stolen art, and women and children just as we will treat ISIS.
Please, Obama Administration, don’t let us find out years from now that oil interests, large corporations and wealthy individuals prevented us from fighting an economic war against ISIS because it may hurt their profits, or because our country has a double standard for terrorists. Wage war on the foot soldiers — but take a pass on the “rich people.”
Rookwood vase recalls famous stolen potsSomeone must own a photo of the pilfered Rookwood pots. That's the hope of a Cincinnati Police detective.
A picture of the 37-piece collection, lifted from a medical research facility in East Walnut Hills, might help solve a cold case that has been on the books since 1988.
Interest in the stolen Cincinnati-made vases, pitchers, ashtrays and tankards that vanished from the now defunct St. Thomas Institute surfaced with the recent appearance of a rare Tiger Eye Rookwood vase at the Downtown auction house of Humler & Nolan.
"This Tiger Eye vase is the famous Uranus vase. This is not part of the collection of stolen Rookwood," noted Riley Humler, the auction house's manager. The vase belongs to the same type of large pots taken in the burglary. As he spoke, Humler carefully turned the 15-pound, 18.5-inch tall vase so its glossy surface glimmered in the light.
"The Uranus vase was exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1900. It sat on display for years at the Rookwood Pottery showroom (now the site of the Rookwood restaurant) in Mount Adams," Humler said. "This piece was made around 1899. Although we have not found a signature, it looks to be the work of famed Rookwood artist, Albert Valentien."
Humler, one of the world's foremost Rookwood experts, estimates the Uranus vase will fetch "$20,000 to $30,000" when he puts it up for auction Nov. 9. The entire stolen Rookwood collection was appraised at $52,000 in 1988.
The vase and the 37-piece collection once shared the same owner, George Sperti. The medical researcher founded and ran the St. Thomas Institute in East Walnut Hills. He also owned the Rookwood Pottery, Humler said, "for four or five years, depending on which history you read, starting in 1942."
Sperti housed most of the purloined 37-piece Rookwood collection in a glass display case on the second floor of his institute.
"I remember going there to see the Rookwood collection," Humler said. "They didn't let you play with anything in the case. But you could just walk right in and go up the steps to see the display."
Sperti earned world renown, along with a sizable fortune, for his inventions. He came up with freeze-dried orange juice, sun lamps and adding vitamin D to milk via lamp light. His biggest claim to fame was inventing Preparation H, a friend to hemorrhoid sufferers everywhere.
Illness forced Sperti to close the institute in 1988 and put it up for sale. While the building was being shown to potential buyers, the Rookwood vanished over the weekend of August 27 to 29, 1988.
The arrival of the Uranus vase reminded Humler of the 1988 theft. He wondered if the items were ever recovered and if the thieves had ever been caught. A search of The Enquirer's archives turned up no leads. A call to the Cincinnati Police Department's records section elicited a chuckle on the other end of the phone as a woman said: "We don't have anything that old."
One more call led to Detective James Wigginton of Cincinnati PD's Financial Crimes Unit. He joined the force in 1999, 11 years after the theft and five years after the statute of limitations ran out on the Rookwood burglary. And yet, he was still intrigued.
"If we were to find these pieces of pottery," Wigginton said as he admired the vase Humler was hefting, "no one would be charged with stealing them. There is, however, another crime called: 'Receiving stolen goods.' "
Wigginton conducted a search for the robbery's file. He came up empty. He did learn that the file had been shredded, along with photos of the 37 pieces of pottery.
"It was almost like that," Wigginton said. "Everything was true except for the cigar. And, finding the case."
In his 15 years on the job, the detective has never dealt with an art theft of this magnitude.
"Nowadays," he said, "you just don't encounter things like this."
That was not the case in 1988.
"At that time," recalled Owen Findsen, The Enquirer's retired art critic, "a gang in town specialized in stealing Rookwood pottery, paintings and stained glass. The gang knew its stuff. And, the collection at the St. Thomas Institute was well known."
The 37 pieces "once belonged to a museum of American ceramics the owners of Rookwood were planning to set up at the Mount Adams pottery," Findsen said. "When that did not happen, the pieces went to the institute."
After they were stolen, he added, "you can be sure they didn't end up at the bottom of the Ohio River. They were too valuable."
Wigginton agrees with Findsen. That's why he wants to get the word out about the stolen Rookwood pots.
"They are still out there," the detective insisted. "And, we need a photo of them to see what they looked like.
"Somebody took those pieces of Rookwood in 1988," he added. "Somebody has them now. They need to be recovered."
Somebody needs to do the right thing.
A 37-piece collection of Rookwood vases, ashtrays, pitchers and tankards – crafted between 1885 and 1957 – vanished from the St. Thomas Institute in East Walnut Hills in 1988. Back then, the collection was appraised at $52,000. The theft included two rare Tiger Eye vases, one of which today would be worth $20,000 to $30,000. The stolen items were never found. Cincinnati Police Detective James Wigginton is looking for photos of the collection as well as the pieces of pottery. If you have any information about the theft, the photos or the missing Rookwood, contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 513-352-3542.
The Stradivarius Affair
It just isn’t every day that a high-school dropout and twice-convicted felon, your basic street criminal, as he was described, is the alleged mastermind of a crime that no one in law enforcement the world over had ever quite seen. Maybe it wasn’t the crime of the century, but it definitely was the crime of the century in Milwaukee. The city, known for beer, bratwurst, the Brewers, and frighteningly large portions at German restaurants, had never been a hotbed of headlines. But this made national and world news not seen since the days of the city’s own serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
The Milwaukee Police Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation put out dozens of officers and detectives and supervisors to crack the case and find a suspect named Salah Salahadyn.
Forty-two years old with a thin frame and the studied manner of someone trying very hard to be measured and professorial when he is neither, Salahadyn was a Milwaukee native and fancied himself a high-end art thief, according to police.
It is not exactly clear why he fancied himself this way. There was no evidence that he was a high-end art thief, except for one strangely bungled attempt roughly 15 years earlier in which he tried to return—for a finder’s fee—a $25,000 statue to the same Milwaukee gallery owner from whom it had been stolen. (In an interview with Vanity Fair, Salahadyn insists that he did not know the statue had been stolen.) He was arrested by police and given a five-year sentence for receiving stolen property.
His lifestyle, a free apartment and $400 a month in return for managing the apartment building, with two of his five children under the age of three, and fighting to make ends meet over the years by selling weed, did not seem the stuff of The Thomas Crown Affair either. He was articulate and well spoken, somewhat at odds with his fractured life. You couldn’t help but feel it all should have been better. But you only had to spend a minute with him to figure out that he loved notoriety even if it was bad, that he had a very serious case of grandiosity.
Still, there was method.
If you look at it another way, there was something dangerous and almost deranged about it, the kind of crime Abbott and Costello might plan, after consultation with Cheech and Chong and Martin and Lewis. There were also repercussions that could have been catastrophic far beyond the fate of a multi-million-dollar violin.
A Taser was used on Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Frank Almond as he was about to get into his car in a parking lot in subzero temperatures after a performance on January 27. Tasers in very rare instances have caused fatal heart attacks. In falling to the ground, the 50-year-old Almond could have cracked his head open on the patchy ice that had built up as a result of the frigid winter.
The Taser did immobilize Almond just long enough for someone to grab the violin case slung over his left shoulder. In that respect the crime went off just the way Salahadyn had allegedly dreamed of in prison—the ease of stealing a Stradivarius simply by grabbing it from an unsuspecting classical musician.
But there are two parts to an art heist such as this—stealing the object and then having a plan as to what to do with it afterward. It was in this second area that the scheme seemed stunted.
The getaway vehicle was a somewhat bruised minivan, sticking out like a phosphorescent bulb because of its maroon color. Police say its driver was not some trained professional but the mother of three of Salahadyn’s children.
It did not help that the Taser used on Almond shot out dozens of confetti-size identification tags, thereby enabling the F.B.I. to track down where the Taser had been purchased online and the owner of record.
It also did not help that the owner, the sublimely named Universal Knowledge Allah, or Uni to his friends, an affable barber and Tupperware consultant hoping to crack the middle-age-housewife party market, blabbed about details of the robbery (he was not at the scene that night) to a customer, who coughed him up to the police. It did not help when a former inmate who years before had been in the same Wisconsin prison as Salahadyn, sniffing a reward for the return of the violin, said in an e-mail to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra that Salahadyn had talked in prison about stealing a Stradivarius. A $100,000 reward was offered, and in high-end thefts of this nature, it sometimes has the same effect as the perfect worm, with fishes jumping all over themselves to the top to get it.
It really did not help that unlike hubcaps, for example, or even a python, you can’t just walk up to someone in the street and say you know where you can get a really good deal on a stolen $6 million violin. It really really did not help that the Stradivarius happened to be stolen in perhaps the one place in America where the police chief didn’t think it was a form of Streptococcus and, fully cognizant of its cultural significance, decided to send in “the cavalry.”
The cavalry won.
In July the 37-year-old Allah, after admitting to his role in the theft, was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. Salahadyn is scheduled to appear in court on October 3. According to Milwaukee Police detective Billy Ball, one of the key investigators on the case, the district attorney’s office agreed after his arrest in February to reduce the charge against him from armed robbery to robbery. In return Salahadyn agreed to lead authorities to the violin and also plead guilty, according to Ball.
Several scheduled hearings were postponed, one in July, when Salahadyn’s attorney withdrew as counsel, and the most recent in early September, when, eight months into the case, Salahadyn’s new attorney asked for a motion hearing.
As of mid-September, Salahadyn had still not filed any plea, although claiming innocence appears somewhat difficult for him because of a lengthy interview with Vice News in which he did a seemingly failproof job of incriminating himself. During the interview, which he gave without the knowledge of counsel, he admitted to being involved in the robbery of the violin and in the physical possession of it. He claimed that he had been coerced by an Asian crime syndicate that he had made contact with and performed various activities for over the years; in this case he said they wanted him to take the Lipinski to Chicago, presumably for eventual transport to somewhere else. But he said he had changed his mind because he could not bear for the priceless instrument to leave its rightful home of Milwaukee.
Federal and local law-enforcement authorities describe Salahadyn’s claims as ludicrous, ridiculous, and pretty much any other likewise description. Dave Bass, who is a special agent on the F.B.I.’s Art Crime Team and who works in the bureau’s Milwaukee Field Division, where the case was assigned, says there is absolutely no evidence that an Asian syndicate was behind this. He gives several reasons, the most cogent being: Why would any sophisticated crime organization trust a local thief from Milwaukee, particularly one with terrible judgment?
Bass believes the motive may have been the $100,000 reward that was being offered by private sources. It is not uncommon in art heists for someone to steal an object, send in “mules” to help “find” it, and then reap reward money, since owners are often frantic to get their property back with no questions asked. So perhaps the intent was to let the investigation die down, make sure no specific names had surfaced, and then aid in the recovery in return for at least a portion of the reward. The flaw in this scenario, as Bass notes, is that the money is not usually released unless there is a conviction.
Or it simply could have been what Milwaukee police chief Edward Flynn hypothesized: “We can’t ever dismiss the nitwit factor.”
Whatever the motive, it is safe to say that neither Salahadyn nor Allah could have remotely imagined the tsunami that was about to hit them. Nor could the Lipinski, whose nearly three-century journey up until the moment of the robbery had already been the musical equivalent of the cat with nine lives.
Since around 1666, when the singular genius Antonio Stradivari began making his own violins in Cremona, Italy, it is not unreasonable to assume that everyone in history has at one time or another come to believe that the violin shoved into the corner of the attic is in fact a Stradivarius when it was probably purchased at a Henny Youngman concert.
Not much is known about Stradivari except that he was a workaholic up until his death, in 1737. (The exact date of his birth has been pegged to sometime around 1644.) For centuries classical musicians and scholars and scientists have tried to pinpoint the exact reason that his instruments are still believed to be the best ever produced, an unequaled balance of upper partials and lower partials, bright and joyful at times and painfully beautiful at others. Trying to account for the uniqueness of the Stradivarius is something of a growth area unto itself. Some say it was the varnish (no proof). Some say it was because of wood that was indigenous to the Cremona region and is now extinct (no proof). Stefan Hersh, a leading expert in the field of rare string instruments, sums it up best when he says, “What certainly must be true is that Stradivari had to have a great intuitive feel for acoustics, astonishing skill as a carver, and a truly dazzling imagination to create the works he did.”
Many of those who have played a Stradivarius, whether it’s a violin or viola or cello, ascribe human characteristics to it. They talk about its soul and its moods. It is no accident that many of them, including the Lipinski, are named after past owners, in this particular instance noted 19th-century Polish violinist Karol Lipi´nski. You don’t simply repair a Stradivarius; you “stabilize” it. If you follow that line, the instrument can also be bratty, temperamental, imperious if it doesn’t trust you, and, like a runaway, prone to disappearance.
In past years they have reportedly been left in the trunk of a New York taxi, a Newark cab, a train in Switzerland, on a porch in Los Angeles, the seat of a Porsche, and the side of the freeway, once again in Los Angeles, after it flew off the top of a moving car, according to one account. Some were destroyed in the bombing of Dresden in World War II. Another had been camouflaged in sticky black shoe polish, and it was only on the precipice of death that the person playing it admitted it had been stolen 49 years earlier. Another was stolen from its owner in New York as she was critically ill and 19 years later has still not been recovered. Yet another was stolen from a sandwich shop at a London train station when the violinist using it had become distracted with her cell phone.
The Stradivarius has also been accused of fraud. The French being the French, whose role in the world seems to be to debunk everything that isn’t French, have instigated research studies, one in which maestro violin soloists played a variety of instruments and basically could not distinguish between a Stradivarius and a much newer violin.
The Stradivarius has not only endured but increased exponentially in value. In 2011 the Lady Blunt, in excellent condition and rarely played, was sold for nearly $16 million to raise funds for Japan earthquake relief. Auction-house asking prices have also gone up astronomically. In June of this year the minimum bid at Sotheby’s for a Stradivarius viola, very rare because so few were produced, was $45 million. (It did not sell.)
The Hill brothers, owners of a violin-making firm in London and believed to have been the leading experts on the Stradivarius, said in their 1902 volume that Stradivari produced a total of 1,116 instruments, the preponderance of which were violins. The Hill brothers believed that 540 violins, 50 cellos, and 12 violas could be accounted for, one of those violins being the Lipinski.
The Lipinski’s initial owner, Giuseppe Tartini, composer of the famous “Devil’s Trill” sonata, said the inspiration had come to him from a dream in which he handed the violin to the Devil to see what he might do with it. The Devil was good.
The owner up until 2008 was classical pianist Richard Anschuetz. The instrument had originally been purchased in 1962 for $19,000 by Anschuetz’s mother for his wife, concert violinist Evi Liivak. The couple had met in Nuremberg, where Anschuetz was an American war-crimes-tribunal translator and Liivak a refugee from Estonia whose father had been killed by the Gestapo. They performed all over the world together.
As a pianist, Anschuetz had no personal use for the Lipinski after his wife died, in 1996. The natural inclination would have been to sell it, particularly since Stradivarius instruments were booming in price. But he still loved her so much that he could not bear to part with it. So he kept it in his New York apartment and went about his business with extreme privacy, playing the piano into his 90s and finding solace in the works of Indian philosopher and yogi Sri Aurobindo.
Anschuetz eventually moved to Milwaukee to be closer to relatives after becoming ill. (He died in 2008.) The Lipinski came as well and was placed in a bank vault downtown. It had not been played for at least 12 years.
As Almond continued to read the e-mail, it became apparent that the person writing it was credible. There were too many meticulous details, like the violin receiving small repairs and new strings at Jacques Français Rare Violins, in New York, and being appraised at some point by Christie’s.
There was some question as to whether the Lipinski was ready to come in from the cold. But the writer of the e-mail wanted to meet with Almond and seek his advice. He was asked to keep the information confidential.
They ultimately met at the bank vault with Stefan Hersh, brought in because of his expertise. Almond was excited, but he remembers that Hersh, whose family had been in the violin business for more than 75 years, was beside himself. He knew the lineage of the Stradivarius perhaps as well as anyone in the world. The Lipinski had been made during Stradivari’s so-called golden period. This could be a historic moment.
A disinterested bank employee carried the case into a nondescript viewing room. It was opened.
Even in the unflattering fluorescent light, it was immediately clear that this was an authentic 1715 Stradivarius. The bridge was down. There was an open seam. But with restoration it could be playable again; under the circumstances it was in remarkably good condition.
The owner’s family, humble, with a lineage of public service in Milwaukee, could have kept it or sold it for somewhere around $2.5 million. But they admirably eschewed personal gain and collector vanity. Rather than force the Lipinski into early retirement at the age of 293, they decided its life should actively continue. They lent it to Almond with virtually no conditions.
The Lipinski was tough and demanding. Almond found out right away that “it maximizes your strengths and really, really illuminates your weaknesses. There is no place to hide anymore.” The most difficult thing was to learn how not to work so hard to get the most out of it, how to appreciate its fast response.
The more Almond played the Lipinski at concerts, the more the Lipinski began to respect him. They became comfortable with each other, then quite intimate. In a city choking on inferiority—the monolith of Chicago, 92 miles away, obscuring Milwaukee in insecure shadow—Almond was also determined to make the Lipinski a source of public pride. He gave interviews about it. He created a CD comprised of pieces composed by those who had owned it. He was obsessively careful with it, never letting it wander away. But he never thought the Lipinski would be the object of a robbery. F.B.I. special agent Bass, who has been with the Art Crime Team since its inception, said he knew of no instance of a Stradivarius being taken by force. “My initial thought [was] this was bizarre and made no sense.”
The night of January 27, as part of the Frankly Music concert series, Almond and three other musicians had just finished Olivier Messiaen’s extraordinary Quartet for the End of Time in the Schwan Concert Hall, at Wisconsin Lutheran College. Messiaen, who was French, had written it in a prison camp during World War II after being captured by the Germans. The piece had been emotionally draining. The audience did not make a sound immediately afterward.
There was a reception that lasted until about 10:15 P.M., when Almond and the other musicians left down a long hallway that ran parallel to the theater. Almond collected some items from the dressing room, then exited through a side door that led to a small parking lot. He walked out with clarinetist Todd Levy. The other two musicians, cellist Joseph Johnson and pianist Christopher Taylor, left ahead of them. The plan was to meet at a restaurant called the Knick.
The temperature was six below, with a windchill of minus 25. Almond, wearing only a thin jacket, had propitiously gotten a good parking space just a few yards from the exit. It wasn’t himself he worried about as much as the Lipinski, which might well pout at his next several performances if kept in the cold too long. It was slung over his left shoulder.
As Almond left he noticed a minivan parked next to him nearest to the exit. He assumed it was waiting to pick someone up. Then he noticed a man coming toward him. He was dressed in a bulky coat with a gray furry hat on top of his head with the earflaps tied. Almond also got a brief look at the person in the driver’s seat, a heavyset woman dressed in a parka and also a big furry hat. If Milwaukee had a winter fashion week, the perpetrators would have led the runway.
Almond figured the person wanted to talk to him about the concert. Then he saw him open his jacket and point something at him that gave off flickers of light.
Todd Levy had walked ahead to his own car, a Chevy Volt, when he heard the sound of somebody saying, “Ah! Ah! Ah!” He thought it might be some kids messing around, maybe drunk.
“Todd! Todd! Todd!” yelled Almond. “They got the violin! They got the violin!”
Levy ran over to Almond. By this time he was standing, but it was obvious he was in shock, as the object he had seen was a Taser.
Levy got him into his car. He was shivering and still stunned and generally freaking out. “This is my worst nightmare.” They immediately called 911.
The first patrol car arrived about five minutes later. The officers’ understanding of what had happened was apparently not immediate.
As Almond and Levy tried to explain, the cops were having considerable difficulty figuring out what they were talking about. The officers were extremely cordial and polite and professional, but more than once they probably wondered to themselves what they were doing out here in minus-25 windchill on a Monday night.
Almond and Levy tried to impress upon them the urgency of the situation. Whoever had just taken the violin might well be on the way to the airport as the first step in getting it out of the city and selling it. The officers congregating at the scene had their own problems, which could likely be boiled down to three distinct issues:
- How do you spell Stradivarius?
- What the fuck is a Stradivarius?
- How could a violin—whatever it’s called—cost $6 million?
Flynn had been to Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concerts. He knew Almond. He did not have to be given a quick tutorial on the Stradivarius. He called the sergeant at the scene on his cell phone.
“Sarge, Chief Flynn.”
“What do you got?”
“I got a guy here. Somebody robbed his violin.”
“Listen to me very carefully. This is not a violin. This is a fucking multi-million-dollar musical instrument. Call the cavalry.”
The investigation picked up a notch after that. Many notches actually. There were those who questioned the priorities of the department in expending such manpower on finding a $6 million violin that at the end of the day was still a violin. During the period leading up to the recovery, there were two homicides in the city, which did not sit right with critics given the number of detectives who had been assigned to the stolen-Lipinski investigation. (Both cases were reportedly solved.) But Flynn strongly felt otherwise. It wasn’t just the dollar value of the violin but its symbolic value as a piece of history that could never be replaced.
“This was Milwaukee’s little piece of the Western heritage,” Flynn said later. “We had just been challenged. It had just been stolen. And we were bloody well going to find it.”
The Milwaukee Police Department explored the possibility that whoever took the Lipinski might try to fly out of the city with it. The Transportation Security Administration was asked to keep an eye out for anyone traveling with a violin. Interpol was contacted. The F.B.I. office in Milwaukee offered major assistance. Investigators followed up on hundreds of tips, with the possible exception of the person calling to say one of their in-laws was squirrelly.
There was speculation that this had been the work of the Russian Mafia or an Asian gang. But Agent Bass immediately felt otherwise.
Stradivarius violins had been stolen before, but they had been stolen quietly, out of a dressing room of a concert hall or from an apartment, so it took a while for the owners to even notice. You wanted to create as little noise as possible, when all this particular crime did was create noise that only got louder.
There was also the issue of who would buy a $6 million violin after it was stolen. Bass did not think there was a dealer in the world who would touch it, because it was so hot. As for the theory that a collector might want it even if he could never display it to anyone, Bass pointed out that collectors live to show off what they have collected. The Taser also didn’t add up. Bass thought it was a very odd and unsophisticated choice, the risk high that it would not work if you were not familiar with it. In fact, only one of the two barbs that were fired broke Almond’s skin. The other lodged in his jacket. There was another problem with the Taser: the confetti with the serial number that shot out when it was fired. It ultimately led to a distributor in Texas, who supplied the name and address of the purchaser, Universal Knowledge Allah. Police captain Jeff Point, the lead supervisor on the case, immediately assumed that it was a dead end, because how could anyone have a name like that?
On February 2, an off-duty Milwaukee police officer ran into someone he apparently knew from the street. This witness said he had gotten his hair cut by Allah the day before at a barbershop called First Impressions, where there was a lot of chatter about who would be stupid enough to do something like this, since you could not readily sell it. Allah asked the client for a ride home, during which Allah volunteered that about seven months earlier Salahadyn had asked him to purchase a Taser since he had a permit to carry a concealed weapon and Salahadyn could not get one, because of his record. Allah further said, according to the criminal complaint that was filed, that Salahadyn called him the evening after the robbery and told him he had gotten the “instrument.”
Allah confirmed to police what he had said in the car. Salahadyn was a client of his, he told police, and he had known him for at least seven years.
The mention of Salahadyn’s name looped police back to the e-mail from the former inmate. The investigation moved quickly after that. Salahadyn and Allah were arrested on February 3 and taken into custody.
It was a huge breakthrough. There was only one significant gap: Where was the violin?
During a search of Salahadyn’s apartment, according to Detective Ball, police had found a scrapbook containing general articles and pictures about the Stradivarius instrument. But there was also one from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel from 2008 about the Lipinski finding a home in the city with Frank Almond.
The Lipinski had been through a great deal in its history. It had survived countless wars and epidemics. But neither the Lipinski nor any Stradivarius instrument could have been prepared for the indignities it suffered after it was stolen. Taken from the bosom of its case, it had ultimately been placed in a soft-cloth American Tourister suitcase and transported to one of the worst possible places for its health, a cold attic.
“I figured you guys would be coming.”
“Because of my reputation.”
“My reputation as a high-end art thief.”
Ball said Salahadyn danced around that day and part of the second. He had the leverage of knowing the location of the violin. But police believed they had significant leverage of their own.
On the third day of interrogation, Ball said, a written agreement was made between Salahadyn and the Milwaukee County district attorney. Later that night Salahadyn led detectives to the apartment building where the violin was being stored. He guided them to the second floor, then pointed to the attic.
A search warrant was obtained. A ladder was borrowed from the SWAT team. Bass, who had handled high-value musical instruments before, climbed up the steps through the space in the ceiling. Bass’s biggest worry was that the violin had been damaged, and the condition of the attic did nothing to lessen that fear. The temperature hovered at about freezing, and such cold can be devastating: the wood of the violin might dry out, in turn causing a catastrophic split in the back. There was dust and insulation everywhere. But one item was free of detritus.
Bass unzipped the suitcase. He took a peek. Wrapped in a blue baby blanket with the logo of a little toy truck was the Lipinski.
On Saturday, August 23, as part of the Music in the Vineyards chamber-music series, Almond performed at Hall Wines, in Napa Valley. He spent the night at a nearby vineyard.
The next morning, an earthquake of 6.0 magnitude hit the region.
Almond was knocked out of bed.
The Lipinski, on the floor in its case, slept like a baby.
Thieves plunder wealth of antiques from country houseTHIEVES got their hands on a remarkable haul during a burglary at a Grade II listed country house in Worcestershire.
A wealth of antiques including silver cutlery, an 18 carat gold pocket watch and a pair of George III cast candlesticks were stolen from Chambers Court, Longdon, near Tewkesbury, after the offenders forced entry to the property.
The incident took place overnight between Wednesday, September 24 and Thursday, September 25.
Other items taken included a silver brace of pheasants, silver candlesticks, a George II beer jug crested by Fuller White, silver candlesticks, a boat-shaped sweetmeat dish with ivory handles, an 18th century bracket clock, a pair of George III silver chamber candlesticks and a heart-shaped silver box with turquoise stone.
West Mercia Police are now appealing for witnesses to come forward.
Detective Constable Pete Ryland, the investigating officer, said: "I urge anyone who has seen or heard of these items being sold to contact the police.
“I also ask for anyone who saw somebody acting suspiciously in the area at the time of the burglary to make contact."
Austria Mistakenly Releases Pink Panther Gang Member from Jail
Prison error releases robber too earlyA 30-year-old convicted thief who was released from prison in Upper Austria three years too early because of an embarrassing computer error is a member of the notorious Pink Panther gang, the Austrian Press Agency reports
However the Serbian authorities released Ilija B and one other suspect, Slavko P, days later, for reasons unknown.
Ilja B was later sentenced in Germany for six and half years for aggravated robbery. After serving half of his sentence he was extradited to Austria, and given an additional six year sentence for the Eisenstadt robbery.
He should have been in jail until autumn 2017 but the prison computer in Garsten miscalculated his release date, failing to include the three years of the German sentence he still had to serve.
After his release he was banned from living in Austria and deported to Serbia. There is now a European arrest warrant out for him as he was due to be the star witness at Slavko P’s trial for murder and robbery in Eisenstadt on October 15th.
Peter Prechtl, head of the prison directorate, said there would now be a review of all discharge data in local prisons after the embarrassing mistake.
"Of course this mistake hurts, but the prison employees are basically good people," Prechtl said.
It is customary that two prison officers check all personal data for prisoners, including release dates, but in future a senior officer or prison director will also be checking any data for serious criminals, he added.
The Pink Panthers group is behind armed robberies targeting high-end jewellery stores in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the United States.
They are believed to have carried out robberies worth in excess of €330 million since 1999. Hundreds of suspects are linked to more than 340 robberies in 35 countries.
Many gang members are known to originate from the former Yugoslavia, but they work across countries and continents.
The Panthers got their nickname after a diamond stolen during a raid in London was later found hidden in a jar of face cream, copying a tactic used in the original 1963 Pink Panther crime comedy, starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau.
Cheuk Nang tycoon Cecil Chao latest celebrity victim of burglary
"When she used a key to unlock the bathroom, she found signs of ransacking inside," a police officer said. "The 3ft by 5ft safe was prised open and some antiques were stolen."
Initial investigations revealed that six antiques, five watches and 20 items of jewellery had been stolen.
The girlfriend, 35, told police that she had gone to the bathroom at about 2am and found nothing suspicious.
"The house is very big. It's just like a maze," the officer said. But he refused to comment how an intruder could have discovered the safe and whether it was possible it was an inside job.
"Police believe the burglar scrambled down a hillside into the mansion and then climbed into the cloakroom of the [girlfriend's] bedroom," he said.
A police source said the CCTV system was out of order and no one had been arrested. The western district crime squad is investigating the crime.
Leaving his mansion in a Rolls-Royce at about 1.30pm yesterday, Chao said it was inappropriate to comment as police were investigating.
Chao, 78, is the chairman of the family property company Cheuk Nang. His daughter, Gigi Chao, is its vice-chairman. The family made international headlines in 2012 after Chao offered HK$500 million to any man who succeeded in marrying Gigi after learning she had wed her girlfriend Sean Eav.
His mansion was the third luxury house burgled on Hong Kong Island in the past four days while a quarter of the 28,000-strong police force was busy controlling Occupy Central protesters.
Two houses in the exclusive Peak and Repulse Bay areas were broken into on Friday.
The year's biggest raid was in February when five-carat diamond earrings worth HK$7 million and HK$1.7 million in cash and valuables were stolen from the Sai Kung home of a Taiwanese businesswoman.
Chicago Raid Uncovers Cache of “High-End” Art
ANTIQUES were stolen after burglars forced their way into a home.
They broken in through downstairs windows at the property in Longdon and searched the house.
A number of items of antique silverware, clocks, watches and ornaments were taken during the burglary, which occurred between 11pm on Wednesday, September 24 and 7.30am the next day.
The items consist of a pair of silver coasters, a salver, a pair of silver candle sticks, a decorative antique box, a silver coffee pot and an engraved snuff box.
The burglary took place some time between 2.30pm on September 20 and 1.30pm the following day.
The suspect(s) is believed to have broken in through the kitchen window.
Detective Constable Steve Brunt, from Greenwich CID, who is investigating the burglary said: "The antiques and items stolen during this burglary are worth several thousand pounds and are of huge sentimental value. It is likely that the thief may have tried to sell these on for a quick profit in the local area.
“We'd urge anyone who may have seen these items or with information to contact us so that we can progress with our enquiries.”