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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Stolen Art Watch, October Surprise 2014

 The October surprise Art Hostage is referring to may occur in the next few days or weeks.
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
Degas theft suspects to appear in court next month
By Angelos Anastasiou
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

French experts could be asked to weigh in on stolen painting
By Stefanos Evripidou
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 horns

Jeremiah and Michael O'Brien pictured leaving Ennis court in March 2013 where they were each fined �500 for having 8 rhino horns valued at approx �500,000 without a permit
Jeremiah and Michael O'Brien pictured leaving Ennis court in March 2013 where they were each fined �500 for having 8 rhino horns valued at approx �500,000 without a permit
AN 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

Landscape At Llanaelhaearn by Sir Kyffin Williams  
Landscape At Llanaelhaearn was painted by Sir Kyffin Williams in 1947
An oil painting by a renowned Welsh artist whose works have been sold for tens of thousands of pounds, has been stolen from London's Southbank Centre.
Landscape At Llanaelhaearn, painted by Sir Kyffin Williams, was discovered missing after a member of staff found the broken picture frame hidden in a toilet cubicle in 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

When Christie’s auctioned off Edgar Degas’s “Danseuses” for nearly $11 million in 2009, the catalog noted that the masterpiece was being sold as part of a restitution agreement with the “heirs of Ludwig and Margret Kainer,” German Jews whose vast art collection was seized by the Nazis in the years leading up to World War II.
But now a dozen relatives of the Kainers are stepping forward to object. Not only did they fail to benefit from that sale, they say they were never even told about it, or any other auctions of works once owned by the couple, including pieces by Monet and Renoir.
It turns out that the Kainer “heir” that has for years collected proceeds from these sales and other restitutions, including war reparations from the German government, is not a family member but a foundation created by Swiss bank officials.
In lawsuits filed in New York and Switzerland, the Kainer relatives contend that officers of the bank — now part of the global banking giant UBS — never made a diligent effort to find them, and worse, used the family name to create a “sham” foundation ostensibly organized to support the health and education of Jewish youth but actually formed, they say, to cheat them out of their inheritance.
Both the foundation — named after Norbert Levy, Mrs. Kainer’s father — and UBS have said in court papers that they have done nothing wrong, but declined to comment. The lawsuits come as high-profile disputes over looted art focus attention on how courts and governments have handled assets stolen from Jews by the Nazis. Despite the scrutiny, this case shows just how difficult adjudicating such claims remains. The Kainer family lawsuits, for example, involve the legal systems of four countries and rest on the intentions and actions of people who have been dead for many decades. Like many families who survived the Holocaust, the Kainer descendants were not even aware that their relatives had lost or left behind valuables to which they might have a claim. As experts note, the ability to track family members has made great leaps over the years. This case only came to light when Mondex Corporation, which helps recover looted property, noticed in 2009 that hundreds of works once owned by the Kainers had been listed in an international database of art lost in the war years, and then tracked down their relatives.
Then there is the added drama that the New York lawsuit names UBS as a defendant, striking a sensitive chord. UBS, the result of a 1998 merger between Swiss Bank Corporation and the Union Bank of Switzerland, was one of several Swiss banks accused of trying to block attempts by Jewish war survivors and heirs to reclaim assets deposited in what they had thought were safe havens.

The Kainer family’s dealings with Swiss banks stretches back to the period before Hitler grabbed power. Margret Kainer and her father relied on the Swiss Bank Corporation to manage their fortunes. Before his death in 1928, Mr. Levy, a Berlin metals dealer, set up a foundation to benefit his only daughter. He trusted the Swiss bank so much that in the foundation’s bylaws he required a bank director to be one of its two trustees.
When the Nazis seized control in Germany a few years later, Margret and her husband, Ludwig, a well-known artist and illustrator who designed sets for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, fled to France.
The Germans ended up confiscating much of the Kainers’ extensive holdings, which included real estate, securities, bank accounts and a world-class art collection that contained works by Goya, Ingres and Renoir as well as Chinese ceramics and ancient Egyptian sculptures, according to court papers.
Out of the Nazis reach, however, was the Norbert Levy Foundation, based in Switzerland. The foundation provided regular payments to the couple: 800 Swiss francs a month (about $2,800) until the money ran out in 1944, court papers say.
Most of Margret’s relatives were not as lucky. At least four were killed in the Holocaust, said Max Corden, a great-nephew of Norbert Levy, now 87, who is a party to the lawsuit.
After the war, the Kainers, who had briefly sought refuge in Switzerland, moved back to Paris where Mr. Kainer died in 1967, followed by Mrs. Kainer in 1968. Since they were childless, the rightful heirs, the lawsuits contend, are the 12 children and grandchildren of Mrs. Kainer’s cousins. The foundation, they say, was legally terminated with Mrs. Kainer’s death.
What happened next is at the crux of the legal dispute. Did bank officials make a good-faith effort to track down family heirs after the couple died?
The Kainer relatives say no. They charge in court papers that even a cursory search would have turned up the names of relatives who had contacted the bank in 1947 and 1950 to ask about arranging for help from the foundation. A diligent effort, they say, would also have included contacting the International Tracing Service of the Swiss-based Red Cross, which was created specifically to find missing and displaced people. Family members, the court papers say, were listed with the service.
What bank officials did do was post a notice seeking heirs for three months of 1969 in a local governmental journal published by the Swiss state of Vaud, where the Kainers maintained a legal address.
Experts acknowledge that in those days, few institutions initiated the kind of full-bore efforts to find heirs that are considered standard now.
“There were different expectations of what was required,” said Anna Rubin, the director of New York State’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office. She noted that genealogical research was less advanced, and that digital databases did not exist.
Still, experts said a basic search would have included contacting the Red Cross. A more thorough attempt, they say, would have involved Jewish organizations and a registration office in Germany, where Margret Kainer was born.

The question of who qualified as an heir languished until 1970, when West Germany, as part of a postwar settlement, finally agreed to pay the family a lump sum as restitution (the exact amount is unclear). But the money would be forfeited if there were no legal heirs.
Since the bank had not located any family members, Dr. Albert Genner, a Swiss Bank Corporation director who had personally known Norbert Levy, came up with a plan to revive the foundation in order to get the payout. In a memo dated Dec. 21, 1970, and stamped “Private,” Dr. Genner advocated resurrecting the foundation to function as the Kainers’ legal successor, so that “a claim could be constructed.” The foundation’s purpose, Dr. Genner wrote, would be to help educate children, preferably “of Jewish heritage from prewar Germany,” who “for health reasons” needed to attend school in Vaud’s favorable climate.
What no one understood at the time was just how valuable the Kainer estate really was. Over the last decade and a half, millions of dollars in misplaced assets and recovered art have surfaced. The biggest bonanza came after Swiss officials discovered a lost portfolio worth more than $19 million, according to public records in Switzerland. Swiss officials said they, too, were unable to find Kainer descendants despite multiple searches and claimed the windfall. After the Norbert foundation objected, they ultimately negotiated a settlement in 2005 under which the foundation received $5.6 million. (The Kainer family is suing the municipalities of Vaud and Pulley in Switzerland to recover the rest.)
In recent years, the foundation has collected at least $11 million, including $1.8 million from the 2009 “Danseuses” settlement and proceeds from the sale of at least three other stolen works by Monet and Renoir. (Hundreds of other Kainer collection paintings are still unaccounted for.)
Given those assets, the question of how much has been spent by the foundation on Jewish students remains unclear.
Tracking the activities of a foundation in Switzerland can be difficult, because, unlike the situation in the United States, financial information is not necessarily open to the public. Lawyers for the foundation and its president, Edgar Kircher, declined to discuss its finances or comment on the accusations.
But the minutes of nine annual board meetings held between 1990 and 2008, and gathered by Moneyhouse, a Swiss data and information service, give some sense of the organization’s reported finances.
For example, in 2008, the last year for which minutes are available, the board reported that it planned to award $8,570, divided among three students. That year, the board also discussed removing the foundation’s investments from UBS’s management because of poor performance.
“I haven’t found any evidence that they’ve given any significant money to anybody,” said James Palmer, the president of Mondex. There is, however, no evidence that the board members have taken anything but minor reimbursements for their services.
The board has been controlled since its creation in 1971 by current and former bank officials or their spouses. For the past 25 years, Mr. Kircher, an executive with UBS, has been its president or served on its board. Since 1992, the foundation has been run out of his home.
Lawyers for UBS said in court papers that the company has no relationship with the foundation and is merely a bystander in this case. Margaret Stinson, a spokeswoman for UBS, declined to comment further.
In court papers, the foundation has maintained that, under the terms of Norbert Levy’s will, it has a legal right to the assets it collected.
Mrs. Kainer’s cousin, Mr. Corden, a retired economist, scoffed at such suggestions. In an email, he said he was “outraged” by the conduct of Swiss bank officials and the foundation. He said he is not looking to profit personally from the lawsuit, as he and his family no longer are in need.
“If I get any money,” he said, “I shall give most or all to good causes.”

Overwhelmed U.S. port inspectors unable to keep up with illegal wildlife trade

Victor Gordon’s cramped antiques shop was called “the most unusual store in Philadelphia,” and it more than lived up to its billing.
It was a tomb for African elephants, with about 425 pieces of tusks carved to resemble tribesmen and totems, “one of the largest known caches of illegal elephant ivory in the United States,” court records said, worth about $1 million.
Gordon was a middleman in the grisly supply chain of African elephant ivory and rhinoceros horn who took advantage of a poorly guarded U.S. port. He was by no means a rarity.

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.
While the international response to poaching is focused on Africa and the demand for contraband in China and Vietnam, middlemen such as Gordon have been running extremely lucrative operations within U.S. borders. They bring cargo in through poorly policed ports and take advantage of legal loopholes that exempt antiques and some hunting trophies from the ban on trading elephant ivory and rhino horn. When agents do manage to snare a wildlife smuggler, the courts are often lenient.
“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.
For every crate with illegal ivory, rhinoceros horn or some other banned product crafted from a threatened or endangered animal that is discovered, about 10 get by, police said.
“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.
Spot-checking crates
As a soft rain fell on a dreary weekday in February, Naimah Aziz watched two other Fish and Wildlife inspectors crack open a shipping crate with a crowbar.

It was more than just another wood box stacked in a dank warehouse at JFK. It was also a coffin. Aziz ran her fingers across four milky white tusks of elephants shot dead in Zimbabwe. “It’s a hunting shipment,” she said, legal at the time under federal law, a loophole that allowed hunters to import the remains of non-endangered animals for trophies.
A second crate was opened, bigger and deeper. The skull of a crocodile sat atop the generous hide of a hippopotamus, folded as neatly as a bed comforter and sprinkled with lime to suppress the odor. “We see these all the time,” Aziz said.
Aziz is a member of one of the smallest federal enforcement units in the United States — Fish and Wildlife inspectors and police.
The United States ranks as the world’s second-largest retail market behind China for legal artifacts crafted from the remains of wild animals, with some studies estimating that as much as 30 percent of imported shipments are illegal, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society.
And JFK, with its 4-million-square-foot cargo facility, is the nation’s largest port for legitimately traded wildlife — including ­pricey T-shirts finely embroidered with crocodile skin, coats with buttons made from shells, and stuffed museum exhibits featuring authentic animal horns and hides.
Inspectors spend most of their time spot-checking some of the 140,000 declared shipments — merchandise with a federal permit allowing its entry — that come and go each year. Crates’ contents are electronically scanned by U.S. customs officials seeking contraband such as weapons and narcotics, not wildlife.
A spot-check put law enforcement on the trail of the smuggling ring in 2007. That year, a crate that arrived at JFK from Cam­eroon with documents saying it contained low-value wood trinkets aroused suspicion. A search revealed that much of the cargo was illegal ivory.
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.
The informant, whom the government has declined to identify because of an ongoing investigation, said he smuggled raw ivory and “worked” ivory, meaning it had been carved into statues and masks. He had the ivory boiled and soaked in resin by artisans in West Africa to make it look like a 100-year-old antique that’s more expensive and legal to sell, another loophole the federal government only recently sought to close.
On at least three occasions between August 2006 and January 2009, Gordon paid the informant a total of at least $24,000 to deliver ivory to his store.
With the informant’s information, a federal agent posing as a buyer arranged to meet Bandjan Sidime, a member of the smuggling ring, at a cheap Richmond hotel in August 2008.
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.”
The buyer was a federal agent who recorded the conversation. Sidime said smuggling ivory was expensive: “You have to give people something, a bribe,” he said, but worth the price. “Always the price of ivory go up like a diamond, like gold, all the time.”
Sidime pleaded guilty to violating a federal wildlife laws in 2010 and was sentenced to 30 days in prison, five months of home confinement with a digital monitor and two years of supervised release.
Some of the ivory he tried to sell in Richmond belonged to Gordon. When police raided Gordon’s shop in July 2011, they traced ivory through receipts to buyers in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Texas, Illinois, Kansas and California, where they were mostly used as carvings and other decorative art.

Fish and Wildlife put Gordon and his helpers out of business, but police were starting to see bigger, richer, better organized illegal operations that aggressively pursued the animal piece that commanded the highest prices in the illegal wildlife trade: rhino horn.
The rhino horn trade
A rhino’s horn is an icon that any grade school student can point out, perched on the long snout of a beast that looks prehistoric.
Aside from that, the horn is nothing special. Made of keratin, the same structural material that makes up bird feathers and donkey hooves, it has the same healing power as clippings from human fingernails or a clump of hair, which keratin also forms.
There is little explanation for why so many Chinese and Vietnamese have held firm to a centuries-old belief that rhino horns have the power to heal maladies from cancer to a post-drunken stupor.
On China’s black market, a single pound can command up to $45,000, said Edward Grace, the deputy assistant director of Fish and Wildlife law enforcement. The horns of an adult rhinoceros typically weigh between 10 and 20 pounds. They are also valued as ornate carvings.

Rhino and elephant populations continue to plummet as prices skyrocket on the black market for the animals’ horns and tusks. Weak enforcement and light penalties encourage smugglers to continue trafficking, which is pushing several large mammals toward extinction.
Buying and selling rhinoceros horn is banned throughout the world, but it is possible to purchase horns online and at auction in the United States, and criminals have smuggled them to Asia in airplanes, ships and even the U.S. mail.
During a sting operation in 2011, Fish and Wildlife police found that domestic and foreign crime syndicates were pursuing rhinoceros horn deep inside the United States.
That year, an undercover federal agent lured Richard O’Brien and Michael Hegarty into buying a pair of horns in Commerce City, Colo. The agent had no idea how big a find the two men would turn out to be.
Buyers are usually jittery, but O’Brien and Hegarty were bold and confident. When the agent asked if they were afraid of being caught, they said it could never happen. Their organization made similar transactions all over the world, they said, and their modus operandi was foolproof.

The men were arrested as soon as they tossed the contraband into a rental car and prepared to drive off. They were eventually sentenced to six months in prison and two years of supervised release.
Inside their car were items that police had not seen in other arrests: passports, large packing boxes and shrink-wrap to bind the horns. A search of the men’s criminal histories exposed them as members of a syndicate known as the Rathkeale Rovers, based in Rathkeale, Ireland.
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 there was a loophole — rhinoceros hunting trophies. The United States has banned the import of hunting trophies with elephant ivory and rhino horn from some countries but still allows it from others where hunters are needed as both a form of eco-tourism­ and to carefully manage herds.
Trophies are supposed to be imported strictly for personal use, with the stipulation that they not be sold for profit. But owners who tire of the trophies can put them up for sale to American collectors at auction.
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.
The Rovers first made money by selling antique furnishings to buyers in Asia, but their criminal enterprise quickly diversified to trading rhino horn, police said.
“The Chinese and Vietnamese led them into the rhino trade,” Grace said. “They told them, while you’re out buying these . . . antiques, keep an eye out for rhino horn, for which we will pay more than the price of gold.”

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.
A spike in rhinoceros horn theft in the United States pushed Fish and Wildlife to step up its lagging police effort.
The United States was “being used as a base and a transshipment point by criminals seeking to profit on the deaths of hundreds of rhinos,” Fish and Wildlife Director Daniel M. Ashe said. It was “imperative that we act here and now to shut them down.”
Months after the Rovers’ arrests, Grace and others met to discuss the growing influence of organized crime over the wildlife trade. Within a year, Fish and Wildlife partnered with the Justice Department and other police agencies nationwide to launch a hunt for rhino horn traffickers in the United States.
They called it Operation Crash. Crash is slang for a stampeding herd of rhinos.
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.
In another case, the promise of acquiring rhinoceros horn in the United States drew Zhifei Li 8,000 miles from his shop in China’s Shandong province to Miami Beach. He set aside half a million dollars for his shopping trip last year, U.S. prosecutors said.
After an undercover police officer sold him two horns, the biggest weighing five pounds, he was arrested. Li, 29, was sentenced in May to more than five years in prison for operating a rhino horn smuggling and trafficking network in the United States from his home in China.
The most widely publicized Operation Crash arrest is also one of the most recent. Michael Slattery, 25, another member of the Rathkeale Rovers, traveled from Ireland to Houston and tried to buy a rhinoceros head on a hunting trophy at a Dallas-area auction.
He was arrested and given a one-year prison sentence early this year.

‘We have a better job to do’
At wildlife conservation meetings held yearly by governments around the globe, U.S. officials say they are the toughest enforcers of crimes against wildlife while encouraging other countries to strengthen their laws. But some U.S. officials and conservationists question that boast.
“We have a better job to do” in order to be a role model “and practice what we preach to other governments,” Brooke Darby, a deputy assistant secretary for narcotics and law enforcement issues at the State Department, said during a recent panel on Capitol Hill.
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.
There were a few exemptions: if the ivory is more than a century old, if a family moves with ivory art or furniture not intended for sale or if a legitimate institution such as a museum is planning an exhibit.
Until recently, ivory imported as hunting trophies from a handful of African nations was exempt. But Fish and Wildlife, saying elephant populations in countries such as Tanzania were threatened and falling, issued a temporary ban effective in June.
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.

Gupta is tending shop at his company, Raja Jewels, and Lu returned to his business, New York Jewelry Mart, and both continue to live well in upscale Westchester County.
Cyrus R. Vance, the Manhattan district attorney who prosecuted the case, walked away thinking that the law “doesn’t give a court or prosecutor much power to alter behavior,” he said in a telephone interview.
But outrage over the case pushed the state General Assembly into action. In June, the assembly passed a law that punished wildlife trafficking with significant fines for first offenses and prison time for repeat offenders. The law also banned the sale of ivory in the state with few exceptions.
Elly Pepper, a legislative advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of the groups that pushed for new laws, called it a precedent for states that have expressed interest in strengthening their ivory laws.
“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.
Not everyone supports the tougher law. It could devastate individuals and families who legally own ivory that they have held for decades and hoped to sell. Antiques dealers said the federal law and the New York state law will cost them millions of dollars, without giving them a chance to sell artifacts that had been treasures.
Police and prosecutors argue that extraordinary measures had to be taken because the legal ivory trade masked the illegal one, fueling the slaughter of elephants.

“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.”
“From at least my perspective, this is a business, just like sex trafficking is a business,” Vance said. “I don’t think it’s unusual that people will go in illegal business to make money, and if you don’t enforce it, they will continue to do it.”
The importance of tougher sentences is obvious, Vance said. “We are talking about something of global significance, the extermination of species.”

Follow The ISIS Money

The lack of information about the economics of ISIS’ funding is puzzling.
Webb HubbellIn the movie Trading Places, Eddie Murphy’s character, Billy Ray Valentine, says, “You know, it occurs to me that the best way you hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist or Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Commander, to know that ifISIS didn’t have money or weapons they would not be successful for very long. So it behooves us all, especially our leaders, to ask who funds ISIS, where their weapons come from, and to cut off their resources – to turn them into “poor people,” so to speak. Besides, those who fund terrorism are no less terrorists than those brandishing the swords.
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 pots

Someone 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.

At least two of the stolen vases sported the Tiger Eye finish. As with the Uranus vase, those pieces featured an iridescent dark brown glaze with gold flecks producing a layered look with rich liquid effects. This surface resembles the highly polished version of a tiger's eye gemstone.
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.

On television, cold-case files are stuck in a police station basement and kept watch over by a crusty sergeant chewing on an unlit cigar. A detective tells old sarge what he wants. Sarge grabs a key and waddles down an aisle bordered by walls of chain-link fence. He flicks a switch, a florescent light flickers into action. He pulls down a battered box, blows off the dust and growls: "Here you go."
"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.
Stolen Rookwood
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: or 513-352-3542.

The Stradivarius Affair

It isn’t every day that a street criminal—a high-school dropout with two felony convictions—is accused of stealing a centuries-old violin worth as much as $6 million. But nothing about the heist of the Lipinski Stradivarius, which galvanized the music world last winter, was normal, or even logical

SAFE AND SOUND Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Frank Almond and the “Lipinski,” a 299-year-old Stradivarius.
Looking at it one way, there was a certain twisted creativity to it.
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.

By Mike De Sisti/© Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
SCALES OF JUSTICE Salah Salahadyn, the alleged mastermind of the theft, after a court appearance in Milwaukee on July 24.
This idea of stealing a Stradivarius violin known as the Lipinski—299 years old, still eminently playable, and valued at somewhere between $5 and $6 million—did not just fall from the sky. Police say Salahadyn had been thinking of stealing a Stradivarius for at least a decade, ultimately setting his sights on the Lipinski because of the Milwaukee connection. He knew the patterns of his target, the routine of where he worked, where he parked, where he shopped, what car he drove, the name of his wife, all chilling because of the stalker aspect. According to police, Salahadyn went to one of his concerts, noting, among other details, that he was the only African-American there. He knew the history of what he was after, so much so that you could say he had become obsessed with it. This was no ordinary object of desire.
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.
The Lipinski
On April 28, 2008, Frank Almond received a curious e-mail. The writer, who still refuses to be publicly identified, claimed something improbable. She or he said that he or she was in the process of inheriting a Stradivarius violin known as the Lipinski. Two or three times a year, Almond got e-mails similar to this, about the discovery of a Stradivarius. It was typical for someone who had reached Almond’s stature: two degrees from Juilliard and the Charles and Marie Caestecker Concertmaster Chair at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. He’s also the founder of a much-acclaimed chamber series called Frankly Music and a guest concertmaster appearing with symphonies across the globe.
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.
Almond’s Joy
The problem with a Stradivarius is that once you decide to play one you actually have to play one.
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.”

From the Milwaukee Police.
ALL WRAPPED UP Days after the Lipinski was stolen, it was found in a Milwaukee attic, swaddled in a blue baby blanket in a suitcase.
“Call the Cavalry”
The alleged origins of Salahadyn’s plan to steal a Stradivarius traced back to the 2000s, when he was serving his second term in prison. According to the e-mail that was sent to the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra after the theft by the ex-prisoner, Salahadyn “would talk of stealing high-end art and how easily it could be stolen from unsuspecting victims. His dream theft was a Stradivarius violin because of its potential value and the fact that it could be snatched from the hands of a musician as they walk down the street.”
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:
  1. How do you spell Stradivarius?
  2. What the fuck is a Stradivarius?
  3. How could a violin—whatever it’s called—cost $6 million?
It seemed to be going in a circular direction, so Levy made a call to the orchestra’s development director, Tanya Mazor-Posner. She in turn called a member of the board named Mike Gonzalez, who was on a golf vacation in South Carolina. Mike Gonzalez in turn called Chief Flynn, who was a friend of Gonzalez’s. Flynn, in turn, was sound asleep, since it was about 12:30 A.M.
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.”
To Catch a Thief
The next morning at around six, with the aid of G.P.S. technology, the violin case for the Lipinski was discovered in the middle of a street. It appeared to Milwaukee police inspector Carianne Yerkes, one of the supervisors on the investigation, that it had been thrown out the window of the getaway vehicle, presumably for the very reason that there might have been some kind of tracking device inside it. Not only had the Lipinski been taken out of the case but so had two bows, valued in the range of $50,000, another indication that whoever was involved knew something about the marketplace.
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.

By Jon Riemann/Milwaukee Police.
CASE CLOSED Milwaukee police chief Edward Flynn with the recovered Lipinski at a news conference on February 6.
Lost and Found
When Detective Billy Ball interviewed Salahadyn, he said, the suspect seemed quite taken with himself. Ball recalled the following conversation:
“I figured you guys would be coming.”
“Because of my reputation.”
“What 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.
The Lipinski has gone back to the mundane task of beautiful music. Almond continues to play it with regularity, the only major creative difference being that the Lipinski, a publicity hound at this point, sometimes seems to get louder applause than he does. Almond has also been supplied with security.
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 house

THIEVES 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

 A member of the Pink Panther organized crime network, which especially targeted jewelry stores, has been mistakenly released from an Austrian prison three years early.

Media reports reveal that the man,  a Serbian National known as "Ilija B", was due to be released in fall 2017 after serving a six-year sentence for his role in an armed robbery of a jewelry shop in Eisenstadt in November 2005, but a computer error meant he was released by Austrian authorities in June.

Prison error releases robber too early

A 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
Serbian Ilija B took part in the armed robbery of a jewellery shop in Eisenstadt in November 2005.
A 22-year-old watchmaker who had followed the masked gang as they were driving off in their getaway car was shot in the face by one of the thieves at close range. He needed full time care after the attack and died seven years later from his injuries.
Austrian detectives tracked down Ilija B and two other Serbs and they were arrested in Serbia in December 2006, for the brutal jewellery shop robbery as well as numerous other burglaries.
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

Thief escapes with antiques and other items worth HK$10 million taken from bathroom safe
During the robbery, more than $550,000 worth of goods were stolen. The jeweler was shot in the face and died seven years later as a result of his injuries, which had left him an invalid.

Flamboyant tycoon Cecil Chao Sze-tsung became the latest victim in a string of celebrity burglaries when antiques and other items valued at about HK$10 million were stolen from a safe in a bathroom at his 20,000 sq ft mansion.
The burglary was discovered at about 9.30am yesterday after Chao's girlfriend found the bathroom in Villa Cecil on Victoria Road locked from the inside.
"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

Seized artworks in Chicago.
Photo: Screenshot from Chicago Tribune video.
According to a report in the Chicago Tribune, a warrant carried out against a family charged with stealing $400,000 worth of high-end watches unexpectedly turned up thousands of stolen items, including a hoard of high end art.
Though the story does not identify any of the artworks—presumably because it might spark false claims from the public—one police sergeant tells the paper that some of the art was stolen from an art gallery in San Francisco, adding: “It seems as though this family is a clearinghouse for high-end art.”
Experts from the Art Institute of Chicago are helping police with the investigation, and most of the purportedly stolen merchandise was on display at the 18th district police station. Over the past weekend, victims were able to visit the station where they were required to provide proof of ownership.
Three men and two women were arrested recently after making off with the trove of watches. A man who was at the home when the search warrant was executed reportedly attempted to flee with some artworks but was apprehended. Along with artwork, the police also discovered designer clothes, vases, electronics, rugs, DVDs, and more.

Antiques stolen in burglary

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.

A snuff box, silver candle sticks and a coffee pot among items stolen from Blackheath burglary in images released by detectives in hope to track them down

The engraved snuff box stolen from the Blackheath property in September
The engraved snuff box stolen from the Blackheath property in September
Detectives in Greenwich have released images of distinctive antique items stolen from a Blackheath property during a recent burglary in a bid to attempt to track them down.
News Shopper:
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.

News Shopper:
The burglary took place some time between 2.30pm on September 20 and 1.30pm the following day.
News Shopper:
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.
News Shopper:
“We'd urge anyone who may have seen these items or with information to contact us so that we can progress with our enquiries.”
News Shopper:

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Good vibes. Everyday, all day. God Bless :)