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Monday, March 18, 2013

FBI says it is getting close to perpetrator of Gardner Museum Heist


In a stunning development in the investigation of the world's richest art heist, law enforcement officials said Monday they know who stole $500 million in master works from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and they disclosed new detail about their interest in Hartford mobster Robert Gentile.

"The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence in the years after the theft the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region and some of the art was taken to Philadelphia where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft," said Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Boston office. "With that same confidence we have identified the thieves who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England."

Law enforcement officials would not identify any of those allegedly responsible for the theft, transport or efforts to sell the art that two thieves, disguised as Boston police officers, tore from the museum's walls early in the morning of March 18 1990.

They also would not answer specific questions about Gentile, a 75-year old gambler and confidence man long-associated with the rackets in Hartford. The officials said that, to discuss Gentile or other suspects, could jeopardize the continuing investigation.

But since 2010, Gentile has been questioned repeated about his membership in the Boston branch of a Philadelphia-based criminal organization, as well as leads that place at least some of the stolen paintings in Connecticut and the Philadelphia area.

DesLauriers said he doesn't know what happened to the art after it was transported to Philadelphia.

The FBI, Boston's U.S. Attorney and the museum's security chief released surprising detail at a Boston press conference followed around the world about what for years had been a largely fruitless investigation. The officials were looking for a jolt of publicity to generate new leads in Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The officials also referred repeatedly to a $5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the art.

It was a public relations campaign that closed another high-profile Boston case with the capture in California two years ago of fugitive crime boss James "Whitey" Bulger. Among other things, the officials running the Gardner case said they will rent space on a Connecticut billboard to draw attention to the art heist and the reward.

The Gardner thieves tricked a security guard into allowing them into the museum, a century-old Italianate mansion in Boston's Fenway, with an outdated security system. As St. Patrick's Day celebrations wound down outside, the thieves bound the two museum guards with duct tape and brutally removed 13 pieces of the world's most celebrated art from the museum walls, smashing gilt frames and cutting away canvasses.

Taken were three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a Manet and five drawings by Degas. Included were "Storm on the Sea of Galilee," Rembrandt's only known seascape, and Vermeer's "The Concert."

The disclosures by law enforcement Monday described the most significant developments in the investigation in years.

Although the officials refused to discuss Gentile by name, the information the FBI released about who robbed the museum and how the stolen art was moved years later correspond closely with their theories about Gentile's involvement in the crime. The officials also said, without explaining why, that investigation has been particularly active since 2010, which is when they first questioned Gentile.

Gentile denies any knowledge of the heist or the stolen art and denies being a member of a criminal organization. He has said he is a gambler, not a criminal. His lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan of Hartford, said "he denies any involvement."

Gentile has been in jail since February 2012, when he was caught selling prescription painkillers in an FBI sting. FBI agents have conducted three, exhaustive searches of his Manchester home. During the final search, agents probed his tiny, well-kept yard with ground-penetrating radar and examined a hole beneath the floorboards of a shed in his back yard.

The searches turned up no stolen art. But agents found what federal prosecutors have said were drugs, cash, police hats, explosives, brass knuckles and what a federal magistrate called a "veritable arsenal" of weapons. Also found in the house was a list of the art stolen from the Gardner and estimations of its value.

Since 2010, federal authorities have repeated compelled Gentile and members of his family to appear before a grand jury investigating the Gardner heist. They also repeatedly questioned Gentile before and after his arrest outside a grand jury. Among other things, he agreed to submit to a polygraph investigation.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham has said that law enforcement interest in Gentile includes membership in a Philadelphia based crime family that had a faction active in Boston after the robbery. Other sources have said authorities also suspect that Gentile was briefly in possession of one or more of the stolen artworks and was in the Philadelphia area in an attempt to sell it.

http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-gardner-museum-heist-20130318,0,1959336.story


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