Wednesday 26 October 2016

Police search gangster's home in connection with $500m unsolved 1990 art heist

Harriet Alexander

Published 03/05/2016 | 09:13

A law enforcement agent searches a shed behind the home of reputed Connecticut mobster Robert Gentile. (File Picture) Credit: AP
A law enforcement agent searches a shed behind the home of reputed Connecticut mobster Robert Gentile. (File Picture) Credit: AP

Police in Connecticut have searched the home of a 79-year-old gangster in connection with a stash of stolen paintings, 16 years after the $500 million gallery raid became America’s biggest-ever art heist.

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Robert Gentile, known as Bobby the Cook, is accused of telling at least three people while he was in prison in 2013 on drug and gun charges that he knew where the stolen art was hidden.

The theft, in March 1990, saw two thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and steal 13 works of art. They have never been recovered, and the FBI and the US Attorney's Office continue to investigate, while the museum offers a $5 million reward for information leading to the artworks' recovery.

Gentile took a lie detector test in 2015, and denied having advance knowledge of the Gardner heist, ever possessing a Gardner painting or knowing the location of any of the stolen paintings. The result showed a likelihood of less than 0.1 per cent that he was truthful. Gentile claims the examination was conducted improperly.

On Monday police arrived with 15 cars, with two search dogs and three trucks with heavy equipment. They had previously visited twice and dug up the lawn of Gentile’s home, in Manchester, without finding anything.

In the afternoon the Hartford Courant, the local newspaper, reported that police were focusing their attention on the west side of the house, near a chimney. They tore what appeared to be a vent pipe off the side of the house and pulled off part of the siding and began digging on the lawn near the base of the chimney, with shovels and rakes. Neighbours said there is an underground oil tank in the area where agents were digging.

John Durham, a federal prosecutor, told a court in January that Gentile and mob partner Robert Guarente tried, but failed, to use the return of two paintings from the Gardner theft to obtain a reduction in an associate’s prison sentence. The associate is believed to have been David Turner, who is serving 38 years for conspiring to rob an armoured car.

Gentile is currently facing a federal gun charge that he claims the FBI contrived, in order to force him to reveal the location of the paintings.

Gentile's lawyer, Ryan McGuigan, said the FBI had not showed him a warrant or give him a reason for the search.

“He has told me over the past year that he doesn't know anything about the art or he doesn't have the art,” said Mr McGuigan.  “And if he had the art, he certainly would have returned it for the reward a long time ago.”

Mr McGuigan said nothing will be found on the property, which now is believed to belong to Gentile’s son, who is in prison on gun charges.

“They are still convinced that he has more information about the location of the art or the possessors of the art than he's saying,” added Mr McGuigan. 

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