FBI has new leads on Boston art heist
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FILE - This undated file photograph released by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum shows the painting "Chez Tortoni," by Manet, one of more than a dozen works of art stolen in the early hours of March 18, 1990. The FBI said Monday, March 18, 2013, it believes they know the identities of the thieves, belonging to a criminal organization based in New England the mid-Atlantic states. (AP Photo/Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, File) NO SALES Purchase photo reprints »
HARTFORD, Conn. — In a stunning development in the investigation of the world’s most expensive art heist, law enforcement officials said Monday they know who stole $500 million in art from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and provided detail on why they remain interested in Hartford mobster Robert Gentile.
A senior FBI official also said at least some of the art was taken to Connecticut and later Philadelphia in the years after the theft, but he and other officials would not identify the thieves and said they don’t know where the art is now.
The disclosures, at a Boston news conference arranged to enlist the public’s help in the investigation, show that the FBI remains focused on possible involvement in transport of the stolen art by Gentile.
Although they 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 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.”
DesLauriers said the FBI knows the identities of the men who stole the art in the early hours of March 18, 1990, but will not name them. The FBI also said its knowledge of what happened to the paintings once they reached Philadelphia “is limited.”
The theft happened when two people posing as police officers fooled security guards into believing they were there for a legitimate reason before locking the guards in the museum’s basement and making off with the stolen objects, FBI Special Agent Geoff Kelly says in another of the website’s videos.
The bureau made the disclosures, the most extensive in 23 years, in an effort to generate publicity about the $5 million reward offered for the return of the paintings or information leading to their return. Among other things, DesLauriers said the FBI will be buying billboard space in Connecticut to publicize its investigation.
Gentile has been at the top of the bureau’s list of targets in the investigation since 2010. He has been in jail since February 2012, after being caught in an FBI sting selling prescription drugs. Exhaustive searches of his Manchester house, one with ground-penetrating radar, turned up what a federal judge called an “arsenal,” but no paintings.
Gentile denies involvement in the robbery or knowledge of the crime. He has claimed the FBI trapped him in a drug sting in order to pressure him for information he doesn’t have about the Gardner job.
“He denies any involvement,” Gentile’s lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, said Monday afternoon.
Since 2010, federal authorities have repeatedly 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.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.