Tag Archives: crime


The guilty plea of the Romanians who robbed the Kunsthal Museum in the Netherlands reads like it’s right out of the art theft playbook:  thieves, with the assistance of an insider, steal valuable works of art that they believe they can sell on the black market but soon find out that they cannot.  Read here from the BBC:

TImageThree Romanian men have pleaded guilty to stealing seven paintings, including works by Picasso, Gauguin, Monet and Matisse, from a Dutch museum last year.

Radu Dogaru, Alexandru Bitu and Eugen Darie told a Bucharest court they took the paintings from the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam in October 2012.

The suspects admitted they brought the paintings to Romania and had tried to sell them on the black market.

The seven works have never been found and may have been burned.

Thieves broke in through a rear emergency exit of the museum, grabbing the paintings off the wall and fleeing within minutes.

The stolen works included two paintings by Monet, a 2002 piece by Lucien Freud and a self-portrait by the Dutch painter Meye de Haan.

Speaking in court on Tuesday, Mr Dogaru said security had been “practically inexistent” and he had “entered practically just with a screwdriver”.

His lawyer went on to tell reporters his client said he had inside help. A spokeswoman for the museum declined to comment.

Mr Dogaru told the court the paintings had been handed over to a Russian Ukrainian man and had not been burned in his mother’s stove as had been suggested.

Olga Dogaru, who is charged with handling stolen property, had told investigators she burned the paintings but later denied it.

Her son also claimed at one point he had offered to return five of the paintings to Dutch authorities, but they had declined the offer and demanded all seven.

Six Romanians have been put on trial in the case. One is still on the run and being tried in absentia.

The next hearing in the case will be held on 19 November.

Now, on to the hard part–determining exactly where the art is

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The Worst Case Scenario

BUCHAREST (AFP).- The mother of a Romanian art heist suspect has admitted to torching seven stolen masterpieces, including works by Picasso and Monet, the Mediafax news agency reported Tuesday. The mother of suspect Radu Doragu said she incinerated the artworks, valued at over 100 million euros ($130 million), in her stove in a bid to “destroy any evidence”. “After the arrest of my son in January 2013, I was very scared because I knew that what had happened was very serious,” Mediafax reported Dogaru’s mother as saying, citing court documents. “I placed the suitcase containing the paintings in the stove. I put in some logs, slippers and rubber shoes and waited until they had completely burned.” The court documents appear to confirm earlier fears, after it was reported in May that investigators were combing through ashes found in her home. Six Romanians will stand trial in August for what has been called the “theft of the century”. The seven masterpieces were swiped from Rotterdam’s Kunsthal museum on October 16 in less than 90 seconds. The heist gripped The Netherlands and the art world as police struggled to solve the crime, putting 25 officers on the case. The works stolen include Picasso’s “Tete d’Arlequin”, Monet’s “Waterloo Bridge” and Lucian Freud’s “Woman with Eyes Closed”.

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My Latest for the HuffPost – Re Celina Cass




“Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break.” — Macbeth

She should have been 13 by now, playing with friends and complaining about her summer reading list. Maybe she’d even be giggling with other young teens about a boy from school. She’d probably be asking her big sister what she remembers of the seventh grade.

It’s been two years now. Two years since the kids of West Stewartstown lost a big-hearted, caring child and classmates lost a caring friend. Two years since parents lost a beautiful daughter and a young girl lost a loving little sister.

The “Missing” signs adorned with her bright young face are posted about town no more. Yellow ribbons no longer signify hope on the trees and telephone poles in this small town. All that remains is the permanent void created by the murder of an innocent little girl named Celina Cass.

Somewhere, probably in New Hampshire still, lurks the monster who took Celina’s young life, for no one has been brought to justice for this most depraved crime. Though Celina’s grief-stricken father Adam Laro once said, “I just hope whoever did this pays for it,” no one was made to pay for the inestimable loss of this lovely and innocent young girl. All one can hope is that her killer is haunted — tortured by the memory of his crime and stricken by the fear that he’ll soon be caught.

But as time passes, it becomes less likely that he will be. With each passing day, the chances that a killer will be identified and caught dwindle. And that passage of time will fade the memory of Celina’s kind eyes from the minds of the many in her hometown and throughout New England who were moved by the senselessness of her murder.

A townswoman who knew Celina described her as a “very sweet girl, quiet, shy, a little sadness in her eyes.” Maybe that is what makes her so hard to forget. One cannot see her photo and just move on, dismissing the murder as just another sad tale. There’s something unspoken in Celina’s face that makes her familiar, recognizable, unforgettable. Yet she’s no longer in the headlines, no longer the lead story. Incredibly, in our culture, there are other missing and murdered children to whom we turn our attention. There’s never a shortage. Television careers have been built around this sad fact.

So we’ve suffered other heartaches since her death, and we’ll suffer many more still. And the natural tendency — indeed, even the professional advice — is to move on. But I say we should never move on. Not from a crime like this. Not while the killer is still out there, unpunished for his sick deeds. Not while justice for Celina Cass remains to be served.

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Art Theft on the Rise


IOL news nov 12  PN Pretoria Art Museum

Four of five paintings stolen from the Pretoria Art Museum and were found on a bench in a cemetery in Port Elizabeth, police said. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Pretoria – Art theft in South Africa is not a common crime, but with more individuals realising the value of South African art, its incidence is on the increase, the founder of ArtVault, Dale Sargent, has said.

On Tuesday, Lohine Horne, 59, appeared briefly in the Pretoria Specialised Commercial Crimes Court on a charge of theft. The case was postponed to January.

She was earlier found guilty of stealing her stepbrother Koos Jordaan’s Pierneef painting, titled Karoo naby Middelburg CP.

The 1954 artwork is worth about R2 million and was sold by Horne for R850 000 through an auctioneer.

Jordaan inherited the painting from his father after he died in 1995. Jordaan left the painting with his mother. His mother died in 2008, and it emerged that Horne had removed the painting in November 2007.

Sargent said it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to resell valuable artwork once stolen. “Any reputable dealer or auction house will research the work.

The market for valuable artwork in South Africa is small. It can easily be determined if an art piece has been stolen.”

Recent artworks stolen include five paintings taken from the Pretoria Art Museum last month.

Three men entered the museum, tied employees up and produced a “shopping list” of artworks they wanted while holding an employee at gunpoint. The paintings included Pierneef’s Eland and Bird (1961), Irma Stern’s Fishing Boats (1931) and Gerard Sekoto’s Street Scene (1939).

Four of the paintings were later found at a church in Port Elizabeth. Sekoto’s Street Scene, valued at R7 million, is still missing.

Two weeks before, a Pierneef painting was stolen from the Potchefstroom art gallery.

Sargent’s company, ArtVault, documents and catalogues many of the country’s corporate and private collections, including works at the Constitutional Court. He said private collectors could now keep their art safe by using security tags. “It is effective but expensive.”

Radio frequency identity tags would soon be available. These clip on to the back of a painting. When the frequency is interrupted an alarm goes off. Another method is a battery-operated device on which the painting is hung. If movement is detected, an alarm goes off.

Artinsure.co.za also said art and cultural property theft was a rapidly growing criminal enterprise.

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How Google Searches Were Used to Find Millions in Stolen Art


In mid-September, thieves robbed [Jeffrey Gundlach's] Santa Monica home in a quiet residential neighborhood, taking more than $10 million in artworks as well as his red 2010 Porsche Carrera 4S, wine and watches. The robbers also snatched two works by Gundlach’s late grandmother, Helen Fuchs, who was an amateur painter.

The money manager first offered $200,000 for tips leading to the recovery of his art and days later boosted the reward to $1.7 million. Santa Monica Police Department Sergeant Richard Lewis says the large sum of money was key to cracking the case, which the Federal Bureau of Investigation assisted on.

In late September, two suspects were arrested and all of the stolen art was recovered.

The cerebral Gundlach also gave investigators a tip for solving the crime. He says that while he was at home in his family room, it dawned on him that thieves would do a Google search using his grandmother’s name to find out more about the paintings and how much they might be worth.

Gundlach told the authorities that they should check the Internet to see who might have googled the name Helen Fuchs. He says exactly two such searches were executed: one by him and one by the thieves.

Gundlach says his Internet idea impressed investigators.

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Major Theft at Christie’s in Britain

(rt.com) A sculpture by Turner Prize winner Douglas Gordon made of solid gold has been stolen from the Christie’s auction house.

The artwork titled the Left Hand and Right Hand Have Left One Another worth around $800,000 belonged to the artist whose works are owned by the world’s top contemporary art museums including the Tate and New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

According to the Guardian newspaper the artist fears the sculpture was stolen for the value of the gold which is estimated at some $400,000.
“I don’t think this is an art theft,” Gordon told the Guardian. “I’m pretty sure it has been melted down.”

Gordon said he was irritated that Christie’s confirmed the artwork had been stolen only after he learnt about it elsewhere. While he first heard of the matter last week, Christie’s informed him 16 days after the crime was reported to the police.

“It is like someone borrowing your car, and then you finding out from a neighbour that it has been crashed,” he said. “It looks like I am the last person in the chain to know.”

Scotland Yard is now investigating the theft of the artwork.

“This matter is under investigation and we are in contact with all parties involved. We cannot comment further,” a Christies’s spokesman is quoted by the Guardian as saying, adding that Gordon’s gallery had been informed right away.

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When Your Van Gogh is Gone

by Ed Leefeldt, Insure.com

When you visit a museum, don’t just gaze at the art on the walls. Take a good look at the guards posted in the rooms and doorways, especially their line of sight to the exhibits. Then check out the blinking cameras in the ceiling, the bolted-to-the-wall frames of the paintings and the shatterproof non-reflective casings on the statuary.

And be aware that others, less reputable than you, are doing the same thing.

The recent art theft at the Kunsthal gallery in the Netherlands shows that art thieves also know their way around a museum. And they like Impressionist paintings. These thieves stole two Monets, a Matisse, and a Gauguin, as well as a Picasso. And all in the five minutes before a “state of the art” (no pun intended) alarm alerted the police, who arrived within five minutes.

‘Museum of the Missing’

These paintings now belong to the “Museum of the Missing,” as one book on the subject describes it, which currently includes 340,000 art objects, according to the Art Loss Register. The “missing” collection also has five Rembrandts.

The paintings removed from the Kunsthal are from the private collection of multimillionaire Willem Cordia, whose family expressed “shock.” Which leads us to ask: Why do wealthy collectors lend their artwork to museums and galleries when they risk losing their prized possessions?

Not nailed down

More wealthy people than ever are collecting art. In uncertain times, classic art is a certainty. Auction houses such as Christie’s saw art sales soar 200-fold in recent years. And this year when Sotheby’s auctioned off Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream,” the selling price was a record $120 million. Incidentally, two versions of “The Scream” have already been stolen, with only one recovered.

“The recovery rate for stolen art is minimal,” says a study in the Suffolk Transnational Law Journal, at least in the short term.

So those who own a valued piece of art should always have it insured. Insurers such as Chubb and Travelers handle specialty policies like this.

Their first step is to have an independent appraiser check its value and make sure it was not already stolen by checking the art registry. This is particularly true for art that may have passed through Europe during World War II, when light-fingered Nazis were stealing anything not nailed down.

Then the insurance company will examine home security to make sure there are alarms and protective devices to keep it dry and secure.

The Kentucky Derby

But most art collectors aren’t satisfied with just hanging their Jackson Pollock on the wall. They want it displayed publicly, even at the risk of losing it. Why?

“Collectors lend to galleries because they like to share,” says Andrew Gristina, who heads the Travelers Fine Art Practice. “Some feel it’s their duty.”

But there are other reasons, such as bragging rights. Like the owner of a Kentucky Derby winning racehorse, it’s an honor to have an exhibit with your name on it.

And it can be profitable, too. As Dorit Straus, worldwide specialty fine art manager for Chubb Corp., points out, “an exhibition can help someone ‘arrive.'” If artists become famous, their work is worth a lot more after a big showing by their owners. A lucky owner could find himself with the next “Scream.”

Kidnappers and keepers

Thieves make it their business to know what art is worth, and are more than willing to rip it off walls. Some of it winds up in China, but there’s also a thriving market for stolen paintings in Eastern Europe.

Some thieves are kidnappers. After all, a piece of art tells no tales after it’s ransomed. Insurers say they don’t pay kidnappers directly, and countries like Great Britain have specific laws against paying a ransom for stolen art. But no one denies that it happens in convoluted ways, such as providing a reward for a middleman who intercedes to have it returned.

Then there are “keepers,” people who wind up with an Andy Warhol in their basement next to “Dogs Playing Cards” or, worse yet, tucked, like the portrait of Dorian Gray, into the rafters of an attic, perhaps for a generation. “Thieves may sit on it, but then someone dies, the heirs don’t know the painting’s value, and it goes up for sale,” says Gristina. The Art Loss Register becomes aware of it, and it is returned.

Putting a price on it

But you wouldn’t want to wait until you’re old and gray to get back your masterpiece. Insurers say that if you do lend out artwork, here’s what you should do:

  • Review the museum’s offer. Exhibitions are often planned years in advance. Is it a “traveling” exhibition that moves to multiple locations, thus creating additional opportunities for damage or theft as the art is boxed and unboxed?
  • Talk to your insurance agent or broker. “We can review our contract as well as your agreement with the museum and the museum’s own policy for covered perils,” says Chubb’s Straus. Insurers themselves have “flying squads” that investigate these thefts.
  • The museum is generally responsible for your art once it leaves your door. But your insurer will likely insist on a loan agreement that covers every possibility.
  • Your insurer will also look at the “facilities report,” which describes in detail what kinds of security the museum or gallery is offering.

“Museums are wonderful places,” says Straus, “but they’re not cookie cutter.” Some skimp on security, she says, particularly overseas.

Insurers say the theft from the Kunsthal will likely cost that private gallery, and its insurer, a lot of money. As for the owners, no amount of money can replace their stolen objects.
“I’ve never met anyone who’d rather not have the art back,” says Gristina.


Bieber, porn

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It’s nice to hear about an art recovery for a change. And, as in Marina Del Ray last year, the drop-off site was a church. –AA

Nearly a dozen pieces of artwork stolen from a Saint Andrews home have been found a short distance away on the steps of a church in Chamcook.

RCMP said several pieces of artwork were stolen between Saturday evening and early Sunday morning from the house on Parr Street.

Melanie Wood, who rents the house from a local artist and art collector, told CBC News she had gone away for the weekend and when she returned home on Sunday, she discovered a number of pieces were missing.

On Tuesday she said she was “ecstatic” about the return of the art.

“I was feeling not so good this morning and pretty vulnerable and violated after what had happened,” she said.

“Knowing it was probably someone that has been in my home and I shared maybe a drink with, or coffee, or a meal or something. That changes your perspective on things.”

Wood said just about every stolen item was returned, including pottery, blown glass, an indoor wooden swing and a Herzl Kashetsky portrait of a woman created with text.

The items were found abandoned on the steps of the St. John the Baptist Anglican Church in Chamcook.

RCMP said it appears the thief or thieves either had a guilty conscience or realized the art couldn’t easily be sold. Although the artwork has been recovered, the investigation continues.

“I feel just happy and just speechless really. I don’t know, it’s amazing,” said Wood.

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Where to Go to See Stolen Art – NYTimes.com

Good piece on stolen art.� I highly recommend the Tate Gallery’s “Gallery of Lost Art.”

Where to Go to See Stolen Art – NYTimes.com.


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My Op Ed in the New York Times on the Rotterdam Art Heist

October 16, 2012

No ‘Thomas Crown Affair



AFTER thieves broke into the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on Monday night and stole a king’s ransom’s worth of paintings by the likes of Picasso, Monet, Matisse and Gauguin, the public and the press were shocked. As usual, a combination of master art thieves and faulty security was blamed. But this seductive scenario is often, in fact, far from the truth.

Most of us envision balaclava-clad cat burglars rappelling through skylights into museums and, like Hollywood characters, contorting their bodies around motion-detecting laser beams. Of course, few of us have valuable paintings on our walls, and even fewer have suffered the loss of a masterpiece. But in the real world, thieves who steal art are not debonair “Thomas Crown Affair” types. Instead, they are the same crooks who rob armored cars for cash, pharmacies for drugs and homes for jewelry. They are often opportunistic and almost always shortsighted.

Take the 1961 theft of Goya’s “Duke of Wellington” from the National Gallery in London. While all of Britain believed that the Goya was taken by cunning art thieves, it was actually taken by a retired man, Kempton Bunton, protesting BBC licensing costs. (He apparently stole the painting by entering the museum through a bathroom window.) In 1973, Carl Horsley was arrested for the theft of two Rembrandts from the Taft Museum in Cincinnati. Later, after serving a prison term, he was arrested for shoplifting a tube of toothpaste and some candy bars.

The illicit trade of stolen art and antiquities is serious, with losses as high as $6 billion a year, according to the F.B.I. There have been teams of thieves who have included art among their targets, like the ones who stole a Rembrandt self-portrait from the National Museum in Stockholm in 2000. (The only buyer they found was an undercover F.B.I. agent.) But in general, it is incredibly rare for a museum to fall victim to a “professional” art thief. The reason is simple: the vast majority of people who steal art do it once, because it is incredibly difficult and because it is nearly impossible to fence a stolen masterpiece.

The wide attention that a high-value art heist garners makes the stolen objects too recognizable to shop around. And there are very few people with enough cash to purchase a masterpiece — even for pennies on the dollar — that they can never show anyone. Once an art thief realizes this, he turns to other endeavors. Meanwhile, the stolen treasures lie dormant in a garage or crawl space until he figures out what to do with them.

It’s easy — and sometimes justified — to criticize security systems as flawed or inadequate, but securing a museum is uniquely challenging. Consider this: The goal of an art museum is to make priceless and rare art and antiquities accessible to the public. They are among society’s most egalitarian institutions. Contrast that with a jewelry store or a bank, where armed guards and imposing vaults are the norm. No one expects to be able to be alone with diamonds worth thousands, but museumgoers do expect an intimate experience with masterworks worth millions. Clearly, it is a daunting task to provide robust security without disturbing the aesthetics of the artwork and its environment.

So what is the remedy for the all-too-frequent scourge of art theft? Museums must build systems that cannot be compromised by a single error or failure. Thieves should have to overcome several layers of security before they can reach their target and several more on the way out. At the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, we took such an approach after the 1990 theft of several masterpieces — a crime that hasn’t been solved. This not only makes it more difficult to steal and get away with stolen art, but it gives the police precious extra minutes to respond to alarms, especially if, as in Rotterdam, they sound at night.

When art is stolen, local law enforcement should focus on the right sort of criminals rather than conjecture about multinational art theft rings. The key to finding these missing needles in the haystack is to make the haystack smaller; homing in on the most likely suspects quickly is essential to recovering the stolen item. The F.B.I.’ s Art Crime Team has gathered impressive intelligence on who steals art and what becomes of it. For instance, they’ve learned that upward of 90 percent of all museum thefts involve some form of inside information. So often the best approach is to look at active local robbery gangs, and to investigate connections between past and present employees and known criminals. Enhanced employee background checks and discreet observation of visitor behavior also help to deter thefts.

Confronting these realities is essential to preventing more pieces of our cultural heritage from being lost.

Anthony M. Amore is the director of security at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the author, with Tom Mashberg, of “Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists.”

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