Unhappy anniversary! Today is the anniversary of what is considered the greatest art theft in history.
Do you remember the 1990 theft of priceless paintings from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum? The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) does. They are still working on the criminal investigation into the heist which took place 23 years ago today.
The missing paintings include three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a portrait by Edouard Manet, and sketches by Renoir.
Law enforcement admits to being puzzled for years by the heist. Apparently, the robbers entered the museum and tied up two night watchmen in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990. After many investigative dead ends, officials say, the probe “accelerated” in 2010 and “crucial pieces of evidence” were developed identifying the robbers and their associates.
Today, the FBI has released word that they had identified the people who stole the masterworks in a daring heist from the museum. They apparently even know where the artworks had traveled in the years after the robbery. The only problem is that they do not know where the paintings are now and are appealing to the public for their help in finding them.
The appeal involves a Five Hundred Million Dollar reward.
“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. With that confidence, we have identified the thieves, who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England,” Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the Boston office of the FBI, said. He added that after the attempted sale of the paintings about a decade ago, the FBI do not know where the artworks were taken.
Officials said at the Boston news conference that they would not release the names of the individuals who masqueraded as police officers to gain entry in the early-morning robbery at the Gardner when the paintings were stolen. DesLauriers explained that because the investigation is continuing it would be “imprudent” to disclose their names or the name of the criminal organization. He said the probe was in its “final chapter.”
“I think we’re all optimistic that one day soon the paintings would be returned to their rightful place,” US Attorney Carmen Ortiz added.
In the meantime, the FBI says that it is continuing its search both in and beyond the Connecticut and Philadelphia areas and launching a public awareness campaign that would include a dedicated FBI website , video postings on FBI social media sites (see the bottom-listed FBI site), digital billboards, and a podcast. The FBI said anyone with information about the artwork can contact them at 1-800-CALL FBI or the museum directly or through a third party. Tips may also be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov, the FBI said.
DesLauriers said the Gardner heist had received extensive media coverage in the Boston area, but officials wanted to “widen the ‘aperture of awareness'” to reach more of the American public. The officials noted that a $5 million reward has been offered for information leading to the recovery of the paintings. Anthony Amore, the museum security chief, said that officials have reason to believe the paintings have changed hands several times.
U.S. Attorney Ortiz said the statute of limitations has run out for the people who actually robbed the museum. She said there was also the possibility that prosecutors could grant immunity from prosecution to people who might be subject to other charges, such as charges of possessing the stolen paintings. Actually, the words were “That is a very strong possibility, but I cannot give blanket immunity without knowing the specifics.”.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Long-Term Criminal Investigations And Stolen Items
Understand, first of all, what is meant by the Statute of Limitations having run in terms of the original robbery. It does not mean that there can never be a prosecution in connection with the stolen paintings.
Prosecutions can be brought for a variety of associated crimes as well as any continuing conspiracy. This is why U.S. Attorney Ortiz is talking about immunity from prosecution.
“What else could be prosecuted?”
As I mentioned, being involved in an ongoing conspiracy about the paintings that either still exists today or ended at a time before the statutory deadline for prosecution occurred. Further, there are various arguments which could be made about the intervening time having been “tolled” (in other words, put on pause) so that the time has actually not run out. Finally, there are crimes such as possession of stolen merchandise which could potentially be brought.
However, the government’s motivation seems to be pretty clear. It wants the paintings returned and may be willing to make all kinds of deals in order to get them. The deals may range from immunity to an instant fortune to both.
On the other hand, a word to the wise out there.
As we have often discussed, law enforcement is allowed, by law, to make all kinds of promises and representations to further its investigations. Therefore, anyone who truly wishes to shed light on the subject and/or have anything to do with the missing paintings may wish to go through an attorney (preferably an experienced criminal defense attorney) in making any deals.
It is not like such high officials as the United States Attorney of the region himself would be outright misrepresenting his intentions on the record, mind you. To do so would be foolish in that it would weaken any attempts at credibility in the future. However, his words appear to be somewhat, albeit understandably, noncommittal.
And remember…should someone come forward and find themselves prosecuted for either the theft or possession…do you see a huge outcry on behalf of the new defendant…or against him?
For the original story upon which this blog was based, as well as to see the above-mentioned video, please go to