FBI focuses on recovering art stolen in Boston

FBI focuses on recovering art stolen in Boston

BOSTON - The Associated Press
FBI focuses on recovering art stolen in Boston

The photo shows a stolen Manet painting. AP photo

Just after midnight on March 18, 1990, two men posing as police officers pulled off the single largest property heist in U.S. history, stealing 13 pieces of artwork worth as much as $500 million. For more than two decades, the FBI has chased leads around the globe.

Now agents believe they know who it was. But they still don’t know where the art is, and they’re asking for help.

On March 18, the 23rd anniversary of the theft from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, authorities announced a new campaign aimed at generating tips.

Their focus has shifted from catching the thieves to bringing home the precious artwork, which includes paintings by Rembrandt, Manet, Degas and Vermeer.

“The key goal here is to recover those paintings and bring them back,” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said at a news conference at the FBI’s Boston headquarters.

The FBI’s Richard DesLauriers says the agency believes the thieves belonged to a criminal organization based in New England and the mid-Atlantic states. He said authorities believe the art was taken to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region in the years after the theft and offered for sale in Philadelphia about a decade ago.

After the attempted sale, the FBI does not know what happened to the artwork, DesLauriers said.

Identities of thieves not revealed

DesLauriers repeatedly rebuffed questions from reporters on the identities of the thieves, saying releasing their names could hamper the investigation. He refused to say whether the thieves are now in prison on other charges, or whether they are dead or alive.

Last year, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut revealed that the FBI believed a reputed Connecticut mobster, Robert Gentile, had some involvement with stolen property related to the art heist.

Gentile, 76, of Manchester, Connecticut, was not charged in the heist but pleaded guilty in November in a weapons and prescription drugs case. The FBI also searched the Worcester home of an ex-convict who has a history of art theft.