Federal agents found more guns – including a machine gun – during a search earlier this week of Robert Gentile's house, giving law enforcement more pressure against an aging gangster many believe holds the key to learning the fate of a half billion dollars in missing art, sources said.
A caravan of FBI agents descended on Gentile's suburban ranch in Manchester Monday, opening walls and cutting open oil tanks in the hunt for clues to a fortune in rare art that vanished mysteriously 26-years ago after a midnight heist at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.
What the agents found was not art, but a Mac 11 machine gun, a .22 caliber handgun, a small Walther handgun, a silencer, ammunition and what was inexplicably noted on a law enforcement report as a piece of wood. The purported target of the search warrant were the 13 pieces - among them two Rembrandt's and a Vermeer - stolen by thieves disguised as police officers, one of the sources said.
The U.S. Attorney's office said it will not discuss the search. Gentile's lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, said it is part of the FBI's effort to pressure Gentile to provide information about the missing art – information the lawyer said Gentile does not have.
It was the third time FBI agents searched Gentile's home over the last four years, hauling away truckloads of items that included a list of the stolen Gardner pieces with corresponding black market values, cash, drugs, a rare stuffed kestrel and a pair of enormous elephant tusks. Agents found guns and ammunition during each search, causing a judge, after one of the searches, to exclaim that the tidy little home on Frances Drive contained "a veritable arsenal."
Gentile - overweight, in declining health and confined to a wheel chair – is being held in a federal jail outside Providence while awaiting trial in July on charges that he sold a gun and ammunition to a convicted three time murderer.
The newest search is certain to lead to new charges and additional prison time if he is convicted. As a previously convicted felon, Gentile faces enhanced sentencing if convicted of a weapons possession charge.
Gentile has been a law enforcement target since 2010, when the widow of a fellow gangster said she was present when her husband gave two of the stolen Gardner paintings to Gentile before his death about six or seven years earlier. The unexpected admission made Gentile, until then viewed by law enforcement as an unremarkable Hartford swindler, the subject of extraordinary law enforcement pressure.
Since 2010, information from a variety of sources, including Gentile's own words in secret FBI surveillance recordings, has contributed to an investigative theory that Gentile is a member of a dwindling number of aging New England gangsters who had some association with the art after the March 18, 1990, heist.