Arrest in stolen art sold at flea market

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  NEW YORK — A Queens man has been arrested for allegedly swiping more than $600,000 worth of Native American and African artwork from his employer. He then sold it through a flea market and concocted a story that he obtained the art through storage unit sales.

Here’s the the details from the Department of Justice:

From approximately July 2010 through April 2012, Leon Zinder was employed as an art handler by a New York-based company (the “Company”) that manages an extensive art collection consisting of thousands of individual artworks, including an extensive collection of Native-American and African ethnographic artwork. During that time, Zinder stole at least 13 works of art from facilities maintained by the Company. 

Beginning in approximately September of 2015 through October 2016, Zinder sold, or attempted to sell, the stolen artwork through a consignment relationship with an art dealer who conducted his business through an outdoor flea market in lower Manhattan (the “Dealer”). As part of his efforts to sell the stolen artwork, Zinder falsely claimed he had obtained the works from both the elderly widow of a sheriff in Phoenix, Arizona, and from a storage-unit close-out sale.

In total, Zinder attempted to sell at least 13 works of art through the Dealer, worth more than $600,000. This included at least three items that ZInder had stolen from the Company’s Greenwich, Connecticut, facility and transported to Manhattan: a Fang Reliquary Guardian Head statue valued at approximately $85,000; a Native American mask valued at approximately $75,000; and a Pende mask valued at approximately $5,000.

Eventually, the Dealer became aware that several of the artworks he had helped ZInder to sell had been reported stolen by the Company. At that point, the Dealer contacted the FBI and began assisting in the subsequent investigation, including turning over the majority of the stolen works to the FBI.

Zinder, 48, of Forest Hills, Queens, is charged with one count of interstate sale of stolen property, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the defendant’s gross gain or twice the victim’s gross loss resulting from the defendant’s conduct, whichever is greater.  

Stolen Art Wednesday: Cauldron Gryphon

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Cauldron Gryphon. Photo courtesy of FBI National Stolen Art File.

Cauldron Gryphon. Photo courtesy of FBI National Stolen Art File.

This week, we’re featuring a griffon — or in this case, a “gryphon” — head that used to adorn a cauldron and is currently in the FBI’s National Stolen Art File.

There are few details in the public entry on the FBI’s Web page, but it is described as made of metal with the dimensions of 18 cm by 8.4 cm. No origin or time period is given, and there is no information on the location, date or circumstances of the theft.

Here’s what the file says:

Archaic metal gryphon head possible from a cauldron used for decoration. Open mouth with clear opening. Framed bulging almost shaped eyes. Raised ears with tips broken. Raised section in the middle of forehead is broken. Swollen in area where neck meets head. Neck gradually enlarges as it goes downward. Whole object scaled and hollow.

With a little bit of research, we found a number of similar examples, usually made of cast bronze from 7th Century Greece. The griffin heads decorated the rim of cauldrons in temples. More than 600 survived, many found in temple of Zeus at Olympia and the Heraion (temple of Hera, who was Zeus’s sister/wife (yep, that’s Greek mythology for you)) on the island of Samos.

For more information and to report recovered objects in the NSAF, contact: National Stolen Art File Art Theft Program, Room 3247 Federal Bureau of Investigation 935 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, DC 20535 Tel: (202) 324-6668

Hunt for diamond necklace

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Photos courtesy of Interpol.

French police request assistance in hunt for diamond necklace stolen at Cannes film festival
May 27, 2013

French police are making a global appeal for assistance via Interpol to locate a diamond necklace stolen from a display during a party at the Cannes international film festival on May 22.

The diamond and pink gold necklace, worth an estimated 1.92 million Euros, was stolen during a private party at the Hotel Eden Roc in Antibes, France, organized by Swiss jeweler Di Grisogono. It was one of 20 items on display under the surveillance of security guards at the time of the theft.

At the request of the French authorities, Interpol issued a Purple Notice to police in its 190 member countries seeking information on the missing necklace. Purple Notices are used to seek or provide information on modi operandi, objects, devices and concealment methods used by criminals.

New push to solve 1990 art heist

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After more than 20 years, the FBI is launching a new initiative in an attempt to close the 1990 art heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Two men disguised as police officers entered the museum, tied up the security guards and swiped more than $500 million in art. Officials said they believe the loot — 13 pieces including works from the old masters — was taken to Connecticut and Philadelphia as part of an attempted sale. Below is the FBI release with details on what to look for and how to collect the $5 million reward.

FBI Provides New Information Regarding the 1990 Isabella Steward Gardner Museum Art Heist
March 18, 2013

The FBI, along with Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts, released new information about one of the largest property crimes in U.S. history—the art theft from the museum more than two decades ago. The FBI is appealing to the public for help in what is one of the FBI’s Top Ten Art Crimes.

The publicity campaign includes a dedicated FBI webpage on the Gardner Museum theft, video postings on FBI social media sites, publicity on digital billboards in Philadelphia region, and a podcast. To view and listen to these items, visit the FBI’s new webpage about the theft: http://www.FBI.gov/gardner.

The FBI believes it has determined where the stolen art was transported in the years after the theft and that it knows the identity of the thieves, Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, revealed for the first time in the 23-year investigation.

“The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence that 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.” DesLauriers added, “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.” After the attempted sale, which took place approximately a decade ago, the FBI’s knowledge of the art’s whereabouts is limited.

Information is being sought from those who possess or know the whereabouts of the 13 stolen works of art—including rare paintings by Rembrandt and Vermeer—by publicizing new details about the case and continuing to highlight the $5 million reward for the return of the art. Although the FBI does not know where the art is currently located, the FBI is continuing its search, both in and beyond the Connecticut and Philadelphia areas. “With this announcement, we want to widen the ‘aperture of awareness’ of this crime to the reach the American public and others around the world,” said DesLauriers.

Anthony Amore, the museum’s chief of security, noted that the reward is for “information that leads directly to the recovery of all of our items in good condition.” He further explained, “You don’t have to hand us the paintings to be eligible for the reward. We hope that through this media campaign, people will see how earnest we are in our attempts to pay this reward and make our institution whole. We simply want to recover our paintings and move forward. Today marks 23 years since the robbery. It’s time for these paintings to come home.”

“The investigation into the Gardner Museum theft has been an active and aggressive effort, with law enforcement following leads and tracking down potential sources of information around the globe. Over the past three years, I have visited the museum several times, and each time I entered the Dutch Room and saw the empty frames, I was reminded of the enormous impact of this theft. I do remain optimistic that one day soon the paintings will be returned to their rightful place in the Fenway, as Mrs. Gardner intended,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz. “As we have said in the past, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will consider the possibility of immunity from criminal prosecution for information that leads to the return of the paintings based on the set of facts and circumstances brought to our attention. Our primary goal is, and always has been, to have the paintings returned.”

The FBI stressed that anyone with information about the artwork may contact the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI (1-800-225-5324) or the museum directly or through a third party, said Special Agent Geoffrey Kelly, who is the lead investigator in the case and a member of the Art Crime Team. “In the past, people who realize they are in possession of stolen art have returned the art in a variety of ways, including through third parties, attorneys, and anonymously leaving items in churches or at police stations.” Tips may also be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov.

Interpol alert on snuffbox robbery

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Snuffbox taken during robbery in Belgium. Photo courtesy of Interpol.

Snuffbox taken during robbery in Belgium. Photo courtesy of Interpol.

Appeal following aggravated theft of art from house in Belgium
Jan. 22, 2013

Belgian police are appealing for assistance to locate more than 50 items stolen during an aggravated theft at a private residence in Namur, Belgium during the night of 31 December 2012.

The thieves violently attacked the homeowner, leaving him with serious injuries, before escaping with the works of art including a valuable collection of 18th and 19th century snuffboxes and boxes, some decorated with precious gems, and others depicting royal personages.

All items reported as stolen by the Belgian authorities have been inserted into INTERPOL’s Works of Art database, which is publicly accessible via a secure connection.

Stolen Art Wednesday: Dracula’s Ring



This week’s stolen art feature is coming early because we have a special Halloween treat.

You can’t get more Halloween than Dracula, so it was quite a surprise when we found Dracula’s signet ring listed on the FBI’s stolen art database. The FBI didn’t have a lot of details, so our research department had to do some digging to see how a ring from the 15th Century Romania wound up on the bureau’s hot list.

First some background. The vampire we know as Dracula from the novel and movies was based on Vlad III, also known as Vlad the Impaler, a real-life prince from the Wallachia region of what is now Romania. In the 1400s, the area was ground zero for Europe’s struggle with the Ottoman Empire. Vlad III was the son of Vlad II of the Order of the Dragon (Dracul), a group sworn to protect Christians. Vlad II became a pawn in the conflict, and his dad handed him and his brother off to the Ottoman sultan in exchange for support of his reign (so much for that oath to the order). What followed next was a series of backstabbing, shifting alliances and purges that ended with Vlad III on the throne and people he disliked — Saxon settlers, Turkish goon squads — at the top of pointy sticks. After being deposed twice, he was eventually assassinated, and his grave site remains a mystery (rumor has it his head was sent to Constantinople, and what was supposed to be his grave yielded only horse bones).

So, about the ring.

Fast forward some 500 years to the 1950s when an art historian named Vlaicu Ionescu, a Romanian, bought three signet rings (signet rings have raised seals that officials would press into hot wax on important documents to signify their approval) purported to have belonged to royalty from the 14th and 15th Centuries. One of the pieces allegedly belonged to Vlad II, Vlad the Impaler’s father. Ionescu fled the then-Communist regime in the 1970s and wound up in Queens, N.Y.

Then, in August 1989, robbers posing as cops seeking an appraisal handcuffed and beat Ionescu, then age 67, in his apartment and made off with the rings and a painting entitled “Barbadori Holy Family with St. John and St. Elizabeth.” The Barbadori piece is a 1516 painting by Renaissance artist Andrea del Sarto.

Although Barbadori is worth $3 million, newspapers keyed in on the Dracula connection. An Associated Press article, which ran in a number of papers, quoted New York detective who seemed doubtful of the Prince of Darkness connection, offering ”That’s like saying ‘We found the true cross up on Forest Hills.” The tabloid World Wide News ran the headline “Thieves make Dracula mad” next to a stock photo of actor Frank Langella as Dracula.

We weren’t able to find any subsequent coverage of the heist apart from the FBI entry. Also elusive is any photo of the signet ring. The FBI listing says it bronze with the hoop made by four cables, a round projection on each shoulder. The bezel has a raven with a cross on its tail which is heraldic coat of arms for Wallachia.

Vital Stats Vlad Dracul Voevod (King) of Valachy signet ring Incident Type : Stolen Crime Category : rings Materials: bronze Period: 15th century Additional Information: ring raven. Vlad Dracul Voevod (King) of Valachy, the historical figure on which the legend of Dracula was made. Bronze, the hoop made by four cables, a round projection on each shoulder. On the bezel a raven with a cross on its tail.

For more information and to report recovered objects in the NSAF, contact:

National Stolen Art File Art Theft Program, Room 3247 Federal Bureau of Investigation 935 Pennsylvania Ave., NW Washington, DC 20535

Interpol alert on Kunsthal Museum theft

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Don’t buy this painting. A Dutch museum got hit earlier this week, and one of the pieces stolen was Monet’s Waterloo Bridge (above, complements of Interpol). Below is the Interpol release on the heist:

INTERPOL issues alert following theft of paintings from Kunsthal Museum in The Netherlands 16 Oct. 2012

Interpol has alerted its member countries following the theft of seven paintings, including a Picasso, a Matisse and two Monets, during an overnight burglary (15 -16 October, 2012) at the Kunsthal Museum in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

The stolen paintings, which will be registered in Interpol’s Stolen Works of Art database, have been identified as follows;

Harlequin Head (1971) – Pablo Picasso

Reading Girl in White and Yellow (1919) – Henri Matisse

Waterloo Bridge, London (1901) – Claude Monet

Charing Cross Bridge, London (1901) – Claude Monet

Girl in Front of Open Window (1988) – Paul Gauguin

Self-Portrait (1889 – ’91) – Meyer de Haan

Woman with Eyes Closed (2002) – Lucian Freud

In addition to being available to National Central Bureaus in all Interpol190 member countries, access to the database, which currently contains the latest information on some 40,000 items, is also available for registered public users such as cultural and professional bodies, including Ministries of Culture, museums, auction houses, art galleries, foundations and collectors.

Buddha, Ganesha seized

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HSI seizes additional stolen statues linked to Manhattan art dealer
Oct. 24, 2012

NEW YORK – Special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) seized two antique statues Oct. 23 from a Manhattan hotel. These statues were seized as part of an ongoing HSI Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Program investigation into an alleged dealer of stolen antiquities.

HSI special agents executed a search warrant Oct. 23 issued for a hotel located in Manhattan. The hotel was allegedly lent these statues by Art of the Past gallery, which is owned by Subhash Kapoor. In July, an arrest warrant for Kapoor was issued by the Manhattan Criminal Court on charges he possessed stolen property.

The statues seized include:

A grey schist bust of a Bodhisattva from Gandhara, from the second to third century A.D.: and

A white sandstone sculpture depicting a Ganesha from India, from the 10th century A.D.

The total value of seizure is estimated at $1.7 million.

In February 2007, the Indian consulate contacted HSI requesting assistance in the investigation of the potential smuggling of Indian antiquities into New York. The Indian consulate advised HSI that an import and export company was expecting the arrival of a shipment containing seven crates manifested as “Marble Garden Table Sets.” The consulate believed these crates contained stolen Indian antiquities. This merchandise was allegedly imported by Kapoor.

As a result of this investigation, HSI special agents in New York have seized over 100 antiquities with an estimated value of $75 million. Notable items seized include:

One five foot tall head of a Buddha weighing approximately 1,600 pounds;

One life sized stone figure weighing approximately 500 pounds;

A bronze sculpture, depicting Uma Parvati, valued at nearly $2.5 million; and

A second century B.C. Bharhut Stupa Yaksi pillar sculpture valued at nearly $15 million.

This investigation has uncovered that Kapoor allegedly created false provenances to disguise the histories of his illicit antiquities. Investigators urge collectors and museums to further scrutinize their collections and contact HSI with any additional information. HSI will aggressively pursue the illicit pieces not yet recovered.

Kapoor, who was the subject of an Interpol Red Notice, was arrested in late 2011 at Frankfurt International Airport in Germany. Kapoor was extradited to India July 2012, where he faced criminal charges.

New item on FBI art crime list

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We got this one from the FBI. The bureau maintains the famous Top 10 most wanted list of fugitives, and it also has a Top 10 list for art crimes. A stolen Renoir elbow painting is the latest to make the list. It also comes with some added incentive, an insurance company is putting up $50,000 for information leading to its recovery, according to the FBI.

Reward Offered for Stolen Renoir Painting

An oil painting by French Impressionist Pierre Auguste Renoir stolen from a Houston home last year—and estimated to be worth $1 million—is the newest addition to the FBI’s Top Ten Art Crimes list.

The painting, Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow with Flowers in Her Hair, was stolen during an armed robbery on Sept. 8, 2011. The homeowner was watching television when she heard a loud noise downstairs. When she went to investigate, she was confronted by an armed man in a ski mask.

Information about the painting has been included in the FBI’s National Stolen Art File, as well as other similar online tools—including the Art Loss Register and Interpol’s Works of Art database—that alert art dealers, gallery owners, and auction houses about missing and stolen artwork.

“If the thief tries to place the painting with a reputable dealer or gallery, or tries to sell it at auction, members of the art community here and overseas who regularly check these databases will see that the artwork has been stolen and will alert the FBI,” said Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, who manages the Bureau’s art theft program. “Our goal is to provide information about this theft to the widest audience possible,” she said.

Renoir, a master Impressionist, painted Madeleine Leaning on Her Elbow with Flowers in Her Hair in 1918. The canvas size is 50.17 x 41.28 centimeters, and the artist signed the oil portrait in the lower right corner. The painting was taken with its frame intact from the stairwell where it hung.

The masked robber, who forced entry through the back door of the home, is described as a white male, 18 to 26 years old, who weighs about 160 pounds and is approximately 5’-10” tall. He was armed with a large-caliber, semi-automatic handgun.

Sgt. Schneider said that while Houston has had its share of art crimes, few have been as high-profile as the theft of the Renoir. He added that the thief would likely try to sell the painting in a larger art community like New York or Los Angeles, or possibly overseas.

The FBI established the Top Ten Art Crimes list in 2005. Since then, six paintings and one sculpture have been recovered, including a Rembrandt self-portrait and another Renoir work titled Young Parisian stolen from Sweden’s National Museum.

Anyone with information about the stolen Renoir is encouraged to contact their local FBI office or the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate, or to submit a tip online at http://www.fbi.gov. A private insurer is offering up to $50,000 for information leading to the recovery of the painting.