LI museum director sentenced for Egyptian artifact theft

Last Updated: 4:14 PM, October 15, 2010

Posted: 4:13 PM, October 15, 2010

The former director of a Long Island museum who stole Egyptian artifacts from the institution’s collection — and later sold the rare antiquities through Christie’s auction house — was sentenced today to serve time in federal prison.

Barry Stern, who headed Long Island University’s Hillwood Museum, was sentenced to serve one year and a day behind bars and slapped with a $5,000 fine during a hearing in Central Islip’s federal court.

To disguise his theft from the museum, which is located on the university’s C.W. Post campus in Brookville, L.I.., Stern deleted files concerning the nine objects from the museum’s computer database.

He then delivered them to Christie’s in August 2008 to be sold on consignment. Catalogs from the auction house described the precious objects as coming “from the Collection of Barry Stern.”

Among the antiquities that Stern furnished to Christie’s was a bronze statuette depicting Apis, a bull that in ancient Egypt was kept in lavish accommodations, watched constantly for signs of divine messages, and consulted in efforts to foretell the future. The figure is believed to have been created sometime between 712 to 332 B.C.

Another piece stolen was a limestone Shabti, a type of funerary figurine often buried in tombs with the dead, with the belief that they would perform tasks  for the deceased in their afterlife.

When confronted by the FBI last year, Stern initially claimed that the Egyptian antiquities has been gifts from his parents.

Stern, who was a university employee for 22 years, stole the artifacts around the time his contract as the museum’s director was terminated. He eventually confessed, saying his motivation for the theft was to exact revenge against the university for his perceived mistreatment while an employee there.

Auction house records showed that eight of the pieces sold at auction and netted $51,500. The proceeds were deposited in Stern’s personal accounts, prosecutors said.

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October 18th, 2010

Posted In: legal issues and the law, Museum thefts

Time Limit Ends Antiquities Case Of Ex-Curator

Published: October 13, 2010

ROME — The case against Marion True, the former curator of antiquities at the J.Paul Getty Museum, ended abruptly on Wednesday, after a court here ruled that the statute of limitations on her alleged crimes — receiving artifacts stolen from Italy and conspiring to deal in them — had expired.

The trial had dragged on intermittently for five years. Numerous witnesses testified for the prosecution, which argued that Ms. True knowingly bought ancient artifacts of dubious provenance for the collection of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The trial was widely believed to be the first instance of a museum curator facing criminal charges for such alleged crimes.

Her Italian legal team had not yet begun to call witnesses in her defense. Ms. True, who was first formally investigated in 2000, has maintained her innocence.

She served as chief antiquities curator at the Getty from 1986 to 2005, stepping down shortly before her trial began. Her indictment was closely followed in the news media and the museum world, where standards pertaining to the acquisition of antiquities have been the subject of significant debate in recent years.

“The case invited scrutiny into what had been collecting practices that were not unusual in the American museum world of the 1980s and 1990s,” Maxwell L. Anderson, director of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the former president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, said in a telephone interview from New York.

The trial was a wake-up call, he added. “The notion that a single curator could be indicted for what was a practice of American museums led us to review how American museum collections were being built, ” he said. In 2008 the association adopted a “no provenance rule” forbidding members from acquiring antiquities that could not be adequately vetted. Ms. True “sacrificed herself on behalf of other museum directors in America,” Mr. Anderson said.

Paolo Ferri, the prosecutor who built the case against Ms. True and has since retired, said Wednesday that the trial had served as a signal to museums that buying objects without provenance had to end.

Over the years as Mr. Ferri made his case in the Rome courtroom, lawyers for the Italian state negotiated a series of agreements with various American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, for the return of objects with hazy provenance.

The Met was the first American museum to come to an agreement, in February 2006. In exchange for long-term loans, it returned 20 artifacts, including a renowned Greek vase known as the Euphronios krater, acquired by the museum in 1972, and pieces of Hellenistic silver purchased in 1981 and 1982.

In September 2007, the Getty — which boasts one of the top collections of ancient art in the United States, built largely by Ms. True and another curator, Jiri Frel — agreed to return 40 antiquities that Italy claimed had been looted from its soil before the museum purchased them.

During Ms. True’s tenure she returned several artifacts to Italy when informed they had been stolen, including a 2,500-year-old kylix, or drinking cup, by the Greek artists Onesimos and Euphronios; a bronze Etruscan tripod; and some 3,500 objects from the archaeological site at Francavilla Marittima in Calabria. And in 1995 she persuaded the Getty to adopt strict standards requiring objects the museum was considering buying to be documented by scholars.

“She was instrumental in changing how the Getty and other museums approached acquisitions,” said Harry Stang, her Los Angeles lawyer.

Maurizio Fiorilli, the lawyer for the Italian state who negotiated the restitution agreements with American museums, described Ms. True as “a contradictory figure” who bought antiquities “without carrying out the proper due diligence,” even as she tried to raise the museum’s acquisition standards. “And she was an employee, faithful to the Getty,” he said in a telephone interview.

In its decision on Wednesday the court acknowledged that the 7 ½-year statute of limitations on the conspiracy charge had expired on July 11; it said the 10-year statute of limitations on the charge of receiving stolen goods had run out in 2007.

Francesco Isolabella, one of Ms. True’s Italian lawyers, said he called her at her home in France after the decision. “She said she was happy that after 10 years the trial was over,” he said, adding that she was relieved that “the tornado that destroyed her life had finally passed.”

Ms. True’s co-defendant, Robert Hecht, 91, is standing trial on the same charges; in his case the statute of limitations is due to expire next July, said his lawyer, Alessandro Vannucci.

A version of this article appeared in print on October 14, 2010, on page C1 of the New York edition.

October 14th, 2010

Posted In: lawsuit, legal issues and the law, looting and illegal art traffickers

NY lawyer convicted in Dead Sea Scrolls case
By COLLEEN LONG (AP) – 18 hours ago

NEW YORK — A scholar’s son was convicted Thursday of using online aliases to harass and discredit his father’s detractors in a heated academic debate over the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

A Manhattan jury found Raphael Golb guilty of 30 counts against him, including identity theft, forgery and harassment. He was acquitted of one count of criminal impersonation.

Golb didn’t react as he heard the verdict in the unusual criminal trial over claims of Internet impersonation — even more unusual because of its arcane subject. He said outside court he wasn’t surprised by the verdict, because he felt the judge’s instructions to the jury were biased. He planned to appeal. As he sat on a bench, he said: “I’m stoic.”

“I’m looking forward to the appeal,” he said. “But not with joy, just because that is what happens next.”

Prosecutors said Golb, 50, used fake e-mail accounts and wrote blog posts under assumed names to take his father’s side in an obscure but sharp-elbowed scholarly dispute over the scrolls’ origins. Golb acknowledged on the stand that he crafted the e-mails and blog posts, but said the writings amounted to academic whistle-blowing and blogosphere banter — not crime. He said he was using irony, satire and parody to expose a plagiarist.

Defense Attorney Ron Kuby said the case was a clear violation of the First Amendment.

“Today what happened was the District Attorney of New York County and the trial court made hurting somebody’s feelings a criminal act,” he said. “And in New York, hurting people’s feelings or being annoying is not a crime, we call that Monday.”

The jury deliberated about five hours. Golb was acquitted of impersonating one scholar, but convicted of identity theft, harassment and criminal impersonation of Dr. Lawrence Schiffman, a longtime rival of his father’s whom he said plagiarized research and was never punished. Schiffman took the case to authorities.

Golb’s father and Schiffman, who is chairman of New York University’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies have long disagreed on the origins of the texts. Schiffman says they were assembled by a sect known as the Essenes. Norman Golb, a University of Chicago professor, believes the writings to be the work of a range of Jewish groups and communities.

Scholars are split on the debate; there are supporters of both arguments.

Raphael Golb, a linguistics scholar and lawyer with degrees from Oberlin College, Harvard University and NYU, said he was angry the plagiarism accusations were never brought to light and that his father’s theory was being smeared online.

Golb created an account under Schiffman’s name and sent messages from it to Schiffman’s students and colleagues. They pointed to blog posts about the plagiarism allegation and asked the recipients to help keep it quiet. “This is my career at stake,” some of the e-mails said.

The blog posts, too, were Raphael Golb’s work under other names, prosecutors said. They said he also opened up e-mail accounts in the names of other scholars of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Schiffman denies copying Norman Golb’s work and says he’s never had a personal problem with the Chicago historian.

He said in a statement Thursday that he was appreciative of the work on the case.

“Let us hope that the field of Dead Sea Scrolls research can get back to its real business — interpreting the ancient scrolls and explaining their significance for the history of Judaism and the background of early Christianity,” he said.

Jurors left without speaking to reporters. During the three-week trial, they were given a history lesson on the more than 2,000-year-old documents, found in caves in Israel in the 1940s by a Bedouin shepherd searching for a lost goat. The texts contain the earliest known versions of portions of the Hebrew Bible and have provided important insight into the history of Judaism and the beginnings of Christianity.

Access to the scrolls was tightly controlled by a group known as the monopoly. Jewish scholars — including Norman Golb — were not allowed to evaluate them. The controlled access to the scrolls continues, Golb argued during his testimony. He said his father was excluded from participating in workshops and museum exhibits on the texts while other more popular scholars were invited.

District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance said stealing money isn’t the only type of identity fraud.

“Using fictitious identities to impersonate victims is not what open academic debate seeks to foster,” he said.

Golb faces at least four years in prison on the top charge when he is sentenced Nov. 18. He is free until then.

While Internet impersonation claims have generated lawsuits, prosecutions are rare unless phony identities are used to steal money, experts say.

In one high-profile prosecution, Missouri mother Lori Drew was accused of helping her daughter and a friend pose as a teen boy on MySpace to send hurtful messages to a 13-year-old neighbor girl. The girl committed suicide.

A federal jury in California, where MySpace has its servers, convicted Drew of misdemeanor counts of accessing computers without authorization. A judge overturned the verdict and acquitted her.

Associated Press Writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

October 1st, 2010

Posted In: lawsuit, legal issues and the law

New judge to oversee Van Gogh theft trial; resumes Oct. 5

Deputy Culture Minister Mohsen Shaalan during the hearing on Tuesday. (Daily News Egypt Photo/Heba Fahmy)

By Heba Fahmy /Daily News Egypt September 30, 2010, 6:33 pm
CAIRO: The trial of the Van Gogh painting theft was on Tuesday adjourned to Oct. 5, when witnesses will testify before a new judge that will be assigned at the start of the new judicial year.

“According to the Egyptian judiciary system, a new judicial department (including a new judge) will be handling this case by the beginning of the new judicial year that starts on Oct. 1. The law stipulates that the judge who gives the verdict should be the same judge that handles the proceedings of the case,” Essam Bassim, lawyer representing museum director Reem Baheer, told Daily News Egypt.

“That’s why the defense team called for the postponement of the witnesses’ testimonies to be heard in front of the new judicial department so the legal procedures are correct,” he added.

The court declined the defense team’s request to release the six detained defendants — including the main defendant, deputy culture minister Mohsen Shaalan, and two museum security guards — on grounds that they are not a flight risk.

“All the defendants are prevented from traveling and all of them are prevented from going to work,” Samir Sabri, lawyer representing Shaalan, told Daily News Egypt.

Sabri added that detaining Shaalan was considered a kind of “torture” because he is an artist and he requested that Shaalan be released on bail.

“He’s an international and fine artist and this isn’t the way an artist should be treated for mistakes he wasn’t responsible for,” he said.

Shaalan spoke to reporters from the dock before the trial began. “I’m proud of my prior achievements and my history; they prove that I can’t be negligent,” he said.

Shaalan and 10 other museum officials and employees were charged with severe negligence and harming state property. The prosecution is calling for the maximum punishment, which is three years in prison.

Sabri accused head of financial and administrative affairs, Olfat Al-Gindi, of ignoring the development plan of the Mahmoud Khalil Museum.

”Shaalan fully performed his duties. He notified officials to include the Mahmoud Khalil Museum in the development plan and replace the cameras and alarm system. Olfat Al-Gindi, head of financial and administrative affairs, formed committees to examine the development plan. Then she put the plan aside in her drawer,” Sabri told Daily News Egypt.

Al-Gindi is one of the witnesses, who were summoned to testify on Oct. 5.

Some of the lawyers called for the interrogation of the Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni, while others called for filing charges against him.

“Farouk Hosni is either a victim or a defendant in this case. If he’s the victim then he should at least be summoned to testify. If he is the defendant then he should be charged,” Nabih El-Wahsh, the lawyer representing museum security guard Mohamed Abdel-Sabour, told the court.

Hosni gave a voluntary testimony to the prosecution earlier this month to respond to accusations against him and the ministry.

He said in his testimony that he had given Shaalan full financial and administrative responsibility of the Mahmoud Khalil Museum, where the theft of the $50-million-plus Van Gogh painting occurred, according to a 2006 decree. The minister denied ever knowing of the museum’s lax security.

Before the hearing on Tuesday, the family of one of the defendants, museum security guard Ashraf Abdel Hadi, appealed to media for his release describing him as a “scapegoat.”

Abdel-Hadi’s sister couldn’t get into the courtroom before the hearing started, her screaming got reporters’ attention as she criticized the injustice of the trial while her mother wept.

“Everybody knows that he’s innocent, even the judge who’s inside knows that he’s innocent,” Abdel-Hadi’s sister told Daily News Egypt.

“Why don’t they take them to a disciplinary trial?” she said, explaining that in such a case the guards should be fired from their jobs, not put in jail.
The “Poppy Flowers” painting was stolen in broad daylight from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum on Aug. 21 using a box cutter to remove it from its frame, leaving the ministry red faced.

Poor security measures were blamed for the theft of the painting.

Investigations revealed that the number of security guards in the museum was reduced from 30 to nine. Most days the number was further reduced so that there was only one guard on duty.

Only seven of 43 surveillance cameras in the museum were functioning and none of the alarms went off during the theft.

September 30th, 2010

Posted In: law enforcement and investigation, legal issues and the law

Archaeologist says council is destroying historic site

Sep 24 2010 by Sam Malone, Western Mail

A RARE Norman site is being irreparably damaged and is in danger of being destroyed, according to a respected archaeologist.

Stephen Clarke, the head of a professional Archaeological unit and chairman of Monmouth Archaeological Society, insisted the remains of a defensive ditch which once lined the ancient town of Clawdd Du in Monmouthshire could soon be lost forever.

Mr Clarke, who was made an MBE for services to archaeology, claims Monmouthshire council had “ignorantly” excavated a trench several feet deep along the Overmonnow site and had cut through the thin archaeological levels into the underlying natural shales.

He also insists the council had ignored warnings that digging without proper consent is breaking the law.

“I am absolutely appalled. I cannot understand what the council is thinking of as it is fully aware it’s a scheduled monument,” he said.

“The council are meant to be the ones who you go to for protection, they are the guardians of the listed buildings and historically sensitive areas so it’s astonishing what it’s doing.

“It’s dug this trench, which is a couple of feet deep, almost a quarter of a mile long and in doing so it’s done irreparable damage to an important historic site.”

Mr Clarke said both professional and amateur archaeologists throughout the town had been outraged by the council’s actions and have called for an inquiry by the Assembly Government’s heritage body Cadw.

He added if the council was found to have broken the law then he believed it should be prosecuted for criminal damage under Ancient Monument legislation.

“Everyone knows if you take a metal detector down there or start digging it up you’ll end up in jail – why should it be any different for the council?” he said.

“It looks as if it’s done without any planning consent and without scheduled ancient monument consent. It’s a peculiar set up and personally I don’t think anyone knows what they are doing.”

Mr Clarke said that he expected Cadw to take a strong line over what he called “irresponsible activity” which seemed to serve no real purpose.

“As far as I know it’s meant to be something to do with boosting biodiversity and to make it a more tidy town,” he added.

“But it’s strange considering the fact the council is meant to be hard up that it can find the money to do things like this.”

According to Monmouth town councillor Susan Chivers, its environment committee was informed in June by the county council’s Tidy Towns initiative that it would be creating ponds in the ditch.

She said: “I just cannot believe the council can be so crass as to go ahead with something which it was told would be against the law.

“As far as we are concerned this is a criminal act and we would like to see Monmouthshire County Council prosecuted.”

After being alerted to the digging, a Cadw spokesman said its officers visited the site and found a linear trench had been excavated along most of the length of the ditch.

“Cadw officers asked that the works be stopped and are now carrying out a more detailed assessment of the impact of the works on archaeology, which will inform decisions on how to proceed.

“Carrying out unauthorised works or causing damage to a scheduled ancient monument is potentially a criminal offence. Cadw does not itself have powers to prosecute but can report cases to the police for further investigation.”

Rick Longford, Monmouthshire council’s economic development manager, refuted it had acted irresponsibly, but admitted a “regrettable oversight” meant the council had not gone through the proper channels.

He said: “We place a high value on Monmouthshire’s antiquities and we have been working for some time to remove fly tipping and waste thrown into the ditch.

“The intention is to look at the site within the ethos of the Tidy Towns initiative and develop a community-based project which will not only clean up the area but also assist in the reduction of dumping at the site in the future.

“A shallow watercourse had been excavated as part of the approach, and due to a regrettable oversight, the necessary consent from Cadw had not been obtained.

“We are now working closely with Cadw to resolve any issues relating to the works, to reduce future fly tipping and develop a scheme to enable the local community to look after the site in the future.”

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September 24th, 2010

Posted In: legal issues and the law

2nd Circuit Sends Art Ownership Dispute Back to the Drawing Board

Who really owns a drawing by the Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele?

Daniel Wise

New York Law Journal

September 07, 2010

Egon Schiele, Self Portrait 1914

The heirs of an art collector who perished in a Nazi concentration camp have been given another chance to establish their claim that a drawing by the Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele was stolen from their family.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week ruled in Bakalar v. Vavra, 08-5119-cv, that Southern District Judge William H. Pauley erred in applying Swiss law as opposed to New York law in determining ownership of the work.

The panel’s ruling vacates Pauley’s finding that David Bakalar, an American art collector, became the rightful owner of “Woman Seated with Bent Left Leg (Torso)” when he bought the drawing from a New York gallery in 1963 for $4,300.

The New York gallery had acquired the black crayon and water-based paint drawing four months earlier from a Swiss gallery. In 2004, Bakalar sold the drawing at an auction conducted by Sotheby’s in London for $675,000.

Sotheby’s put the sale on hold after the heirs to Austrian art collector and cabaret performer Franz Friedrich “Fritz” Grunbaum stepped forward to claim ownership of the piece. Grunbaum was arrested by the Nazis as he fled Vienna in 1938 and died at Dachau in 1941.

The two heirs, Czech citizen Milos Vavra and New York resident Leon Fischer, traded lawsuits with Bakalar in 2005, with both sides seeking to be declared the rightful owner.

In declaring Bakalar to be the owner, Judge Pauley applied Swiss law, under which Bakalar, as a good-faith buyer, would acquire title to the work after five years without a claim being asserted, even if the drawing had been stolen.

New York law on the issue is very different: under no circumstances can a thief pass good title and a person from whom property was stolen has a claim superior to a good faith purchaser.

Writing for the circuit, Judge Edward R. Korman, sitting by designation from the Eastern District of New York, concluded that Pauley had relied on the wrong test in choosing to apply Swiss law. The panel remanded the case to Pauley for further proceedings, and, “if necessary, a new trial.”

Korman also wrote a concurring opinion, questioning Pauley’s finding that the Grunbaum heirs failed to produce “any concrete evidence that the Nazis looted the drawing.”

Korman wrote that his reading of the record suggests to the contrary that Grunbaum was “divested of possession and title [of the drawing] against his will.”

Judges Jose A. Cabranes and Debra Ann Livingston joined in Judge Korman’s main ruling.

Provenance in Dispute

The question of whether the Schiele drawing was stolen by the Nazis is sharply disputed.

Bakalar contends Grunbaum’s sister-in-law sold the drawing along with 45 other Schiele works in 1956 to a Swiss art gallery, Galerie Gutekunst. That claim is backed up by documents in files maintained by the Swiss gallery, which show “beyond rational dispute” that the sister-in-law, Mathilde Lukacs, was the seller, said Bakalar’s lawyer, James A. Janowitz, of Pryor Cashman.

The lawyer for the heirs, Raymond Dowd of Dunnington, Barthlow & Miller, called Bakalar’s claims “a complete fabrication based upon forged documents.”

About four months after the Galerie Gutekunst acquired the drawing, it sold it to the Galerie St. Etienne in New York, which seven years later sold it to Mr. Bakalar.

Korman said Pauley should have considered which jurisdiction had the greatest interest in the case.

New York has a “compelling interest” preserving the integrity of its art market as its state Court of Appeals has stated on several occasions, Korman wrote. For instance, in Guggenheim Foundation v. Lubell, 77 N.Y.2d 311 (1991), former Chief Judge Sol Wachtler wrote for a unanimous Court, “New York enjoys a worldwide reputation as a preeminent cultural center. To place the burden of locating stolen artwork on the true owner…would, we believe, encourage illicit trafficking in stolen art.”

By comparison, Korman described the Swiss interest as being “tenuous.” Application of New York law might cause New Yorkers to take a closer look at the work’s provenance, and that in turn, he reasoned, “might adversely affect the extra-territorial sales of artwork by Swiss galleries.”

For choice of law purposes, that Swiss interest, he concluded, must give way to New York’s “significantly greater interest” in preventing the state “from becoming a marketplace for stolen goods.”

On the question of Bakalar’s ownership, Korman noted that the record indicated that Grunbaum was forced to execute a power of attorney giving his wife control of his artwork four months after he was arrested by the Nazis and imprisoned at Dachau.

Under Uniform Commercial Code §2-403(1), which has been adopted in New York, status as a good faith buyer only attaches if a transfer of property is “voluntary,” he wrote.

In Grunbaum’s case, the circumstances “strongly suggest he executed the power of attorney with a gun to his head,” Korman said. If that was so, he wrote, under New York law “any subsequent transfer was void.”

“[Mr.] Bakalar’s suggestion that the power of attorney constituted a voluntary entrustment to property to [Mr. Grunbaum’s] wife is a proposition that remains for him to prove.”

“Unless he does so,” Korman added, even if Grunbaum’s wife, Elizabeth, transferred ownership to her sister to prevent the work from falling into the hands of the Nazis “she could not convey valid title to the artwork.”

September 8th, 2010

Posted In: legal issues and the law, WWII

Kurt Lidtke, Accused Art Thief, Agrees to Protect the Names of His Alleged Victims

By Rick Anderson, Tue., Sep. 7 2010 @ 9:51AM
Categories: Arts & Culture

In May, after ex-con and onetime Seattle gallery owner Kurt Lidtke was indicted a second time for stealing great works of Northwest art, the rumor mill began grinding: who were the patrons that Lidtke and his two alleged co-heisters hit for a likely quarter-million-dollars or more in objects d’art? Federal prosecutors not only wouldn’t say, they have now moved in court to prevent anyone from knowing. And Lidtke and his co-defendants think it’s a good idea.

One Seattle home cited in an FBI agent’s report on the alleged thefts by Lidtke was burglarized last November of 13 paintings and a sculpture. Three paintings alone – two Morris Graves and a Mark Tobey — were valued at $190,000.

That was a month before Lidtke, 44, left prison after serving almost three years for nine counts of first-degree theft. (He had stolen $435,000 from the sale of 19 paintings consigned at his Pioneer Square art gallery, prosecutors said in 2007).

Released a few months before him was Lidtke’s Monroe cellmate, Jerry Christy, 50, (a.k.a. Nick Natti), with whom, U.S. prosecutors now say, Lidtke schemed last Fall to break into homes and steal the works of wealthy Seattle art collectors. Christy did the jobs and Lidtke, allegedly aided as well by Christy’s wife Georgia, then resold the works on the black market, according to court documents.

Though Lidtke and Jerry Christy remain locked up – barring any pleas, a trial is set for October – the victims have asked that their names be kept secret, apparently in fear they could be hit again. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Friedman has joined with attorneys for the three defendants in seeking the protective order.

In a U.S. District Court motion filed last Friday, Friedman notes that discovery in the case includes questions about “the identities of persons who own certain art, as well as the nature and value of that art.” He says victims will be questioned in the case, and that “One or more such persons have indicated a concern about preserving the confidentiality of such information.”

As a result, the parties believe that it is in the public interest, including the interest of owners of art who are concerned that information concerning the nature and value of their art not be made public, for the Court to enter a Protective Order
In the proposed order, as yet unsigned by U.S. Judge Robert Lasnik, the protected discovery material could be seen only by attorneys, defendants, their investigators and experts. “If any Protected Material is filed in court, it shall be filed under seal, so that it is not publicly available.” It’s thus likely the ownership and true money loss of the 13 paintings in that big heist last year won’t be revealed.

Attorneys for the defendants didn’t return phone calls. An attorney unconnected to the case theorized that prosecutors are seeking the order out of legitimate concern for the victims’ valuables and safety, while the defendants – who have pleaded not guilty – may have agreed to the order because they claim not to know who the victims are anyway.

The key to cracking the case, prosecutors say in court papers, was an undercover FBI operative who bought art works allegedly stolen by Hugh Christy at the behest of Lidtke, whose calls to the operative were recorded. In an April call, Lidtke allegedly told the operative of a plan to heist works by Tobey, Graves, Picasso, Renoir, and Jasper Johns from “a mansion on Lake Washington.”

Back in 2007, before he was charged with the thefts that led to the collapse of his downtown gallery, Lidtke told the P-I: “I’m bulletproof. Does that sound arrogant? I’m not arrogant. I’m as humble as humble pie.”

Lidtke sounded less humble in the calls the FBI says it recorded this year. He claimed to be “steering [Christy] in the direction we should go.” As he allegedly explained in one call: “It’s also the Department of Corrections sort of mistake. They locked me up with a bunch of criminals. And, and I can say

September 7th, 2010

Posted In: lawsuit, legal issues and the law

Co-Owner of Missing Corot, Sales Agent Spent Time in Prison

By Karen Freifeld, Katya Kazakina and Philip Boroff – Sep 4, 2010 12:01 AM ET Sat Sep 04 04:01:01 GMT 2010

James Haggerty. Haggerty was convicted in 2006 in a vehicular assault case and was the defendant in a lawsuit involving a missing $1.4 million Corot painting. Source: Nassau County District Attorney via Bloomberg

“Portrait of a Girl” by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. The painting is missing after a man hired to help sell the painting misplaced it after a night of drinking. The owner valued it at $1.4 million. Source: The Granger Collection via Bloomberg

A prison mug shot of Tom Doyle. Doyle was identified as the co-owner of the missing Corot painting “Portrait of a Girl.” Source: New York State Department of Correctional Services via Bloomberg

Tom Doyle and James Carl Haggerty weren’t hobnobbing in Manhattan, Miami or London in early 2007 as the art market was peaking.

They were confined in March and April to Ulster Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison 94 miles north of Sotheby’s York Avenue salesroom in New York. Doyle, now 53, had pleaded guilty to grand larceny related to the sale of a bronze Degas sculpture. Haggerty, 55, was convicted of vehicular assault, after a drunk-driving incident that caused serious injuries to two victims.

Now they’re linked to a missing $1.4 million Jean-Baptiste- Camille Corot painting, a story that started as an improbable man-walks-into-a-bar joke in New York tabloids and evolved into something more serious after a mug shot of Doyle, the art-crime felon, was matched to Tom Doyle, a co-owner of the Corot.

A James Carl Haggerty was hired to help sell the painting, and told Doyle, the co-owner, that he’d misplaced the painting after a night of drinking at Manhattan’s Mark Hotel, according to a lawsuit filed on Aug. 30 by Kristyn Trudgeon, who claims to be another of the painting’s owners.

“It was a beautiful piece,” said Trudgeon in an interview. “It’s lost by this drunk.”

Max DiFabio, who represented Trudgeon, said earlier this week that he was withdrawing the suit after he showed her a mug shot of Doyle. He is no longer working for her, he said yesterday.

Trudgeon, 39, called co-owner Doyle a “friend” and declined in an interview to say whether they’re romantically linked. She acknowledged that he has access to her apartment.

‘Commendable Man’

“He is a very commendable man,” she said. “Tom just got his driver’s license renewed. He’s not hiding.”

Trudgeon claimed in her suit that Haggerty, promised a fee to sell the 1857-58 “Portrait of a Girl,” had taken the Corot to the Mark on Doyle’s instructions. Haggerty was to show the artwork to a London dealer who’d expressed interest in buying it, according to the complaint.

After hours of drinking, Haggerty left the Mark with the painting, according to the complaint. An hour and 40 minutes later, he arrived empty-handed at the West Side apartment where he was staying and later told Doyle he couldn’t recall where the painting was, the complaint states.

Trudgeon said she filed the lawsuit to obtain Haggerty’s phone records.

“Unless you turn your phone off you can figure out your location because you bounce off the satellite,” she said. “There are so many satellites in Manhattan we could figure out where he was during that hour and a half.”

Call to Haggerty

A man who answered a call placed to a mobile phone Haggerty used in connection with the painting sale said it was a wrong number and hung up after being told the caller was a reporter.

Doyle didn’t return phone messages seeking comment.

The artwork was earlier in the collection of Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum. In 2007, Armand Hammer Foundation, funded by the industrialist who died in 1990, sold it for $900,000, according to the foundation’s tax return. Trudgeon said she and Doyle bought it from New York’s Hammer Galleries in June with the aid of investors. She declined to disclose the price.

The gallery’s chairman, Michael Hammer, is president and chief executive of the Hammer Foundation, according to a 2008 tax return. Hammer didn’t return messages seeking comment left at the gallery.

Doyle and Haggerty started their sentences in the Ulster County prison within days of each other, said Linda Foglia, a spokeswoman for the New York State Department of Correctional Services. Haggerty was released in September 2008, and Doyle was released in December 2009, Foglia said.

Jet Job

Howard Gollomp, chief executive of Imperial Jets, a New York charter company, said Doyle and Haggerty worked as consultants for him this year to generate business. He said the only thing they generated was unwelcome publicity after the story broke.

“They have been banished from the kingdom,” he said.

The James Carl Haggerty who served time in prison is about five-foot ten, with blond hair and blue eyes. Simon Mills, who was the landlord of Haggerty the sales agent the night of the painting’s disappearance, said the person in James Carl Haggerty’s mug shot is the same man as his former tenant.

Mills’s apartment in Trump Place is the address Trudgeon claims is Haggerty the sales agent’s residence and the one she used for the summons for her lawsuit against him. Haggerty lost the painting between the Mark Hotel and his return to that apartment, the complaint states.

A person who dealt with Haggerty the sale agent also matched the vehicular-assault mug shot to him, asking not to be identified because the matter is confidential.

2006 Art Crime

Doyle was charged in New York in 2006 with grand larceny and possession of stolen property in connection with the Degas. He posed as a member of an art-collecting family to befriend Norman Alexander, owner of “Danseuse Regardant le Plant de son Pied Droit,” a sculpture of a dancer looking at the sole of her foot, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has said.

“This is a bad guy,” said Gary Lerner, a New York lawyer who represented Alexander. “He’s a con man and a thief.”

Doyle was accused of taking the piece in 2004 and selling it for $225,000. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to serve a maximum of five years in state prison, according to Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for the district attorney. Doyle was paroled Dec. 7, state Department of Correctional Services records show.

“Let’s say he’s guilty as hell, which I don’t think he is, so what?” Trudgeon said. “The lawsuit is against Haggerty, not against Tom. I’d hope everyone would just back off and focus on the painting.”

District Attorney Investigation

It turns out the district attorney is already doing that as part of a new criminal investigation, according to a person with knowledge of the confidential probe who asked not to be named.

Walter Lynch, director of security at the Mark Hotel, said Sept. 2 that he was talking to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

Duggan, the district attorney spokeswoman, declined to comment on the matter.

The case is Trudgeon v. Haggerty, 111583/2010, Supreme Court of the State of New York.

To contact the reporters responsible for this story: Karen Freifeld in New York at; Katya Kazakina in New York at

September 7th, 2010

Posted In: art theft, lawsuit, legal issues and the law

Antique dealer attacks ‘scandalous’ European extradition laws

An antiques dealer has attacked “scandalous” European extradition laws which led to his attempted deportation over claims that he broke a Greek bylaw at his home in London 11 years ago.

Richard Edwards and Jackie Williams
Published: 8:00AM BST 28 Aug 2010

Antiques dealer Malcolm Hay at his home in West London Photo: JULIAN SIMMONDS
Malcolm Hay, who runs a business from his Kensington town house, sold hundreds of broken pottery pieces to a visiting dealer from Athens in 1999.

Eight years later, he was arrested by armed police at City airport in London. He was detained for two days after a European Arrest Warrant was issued claiming the items he sold had been stolen from the Greek state.

Under the warrant, endorsed by the Labour government six years ago as a fast-track process for terrorists, foreign prosecutors do not have to show evidence to the British courts, but simply demand that the person be “surrendered”. In Mr Hay’s case, court papers in Athens show the alleged offence should not come under Greek jurisdiction because it took place in London. Mr Hay, 60, calls the entire affair “a false stitch-up”.

The apparent crime, “illicit appropriation of an antique object”, is not even an offence under British law.

Mr Hay said the British authorities who tried to deport him to face four years in a Greek jail acted like “the Gestapo”. No prima facie evidence of wrongdoing was presented and Mr Hay said: “The English involvement is what I find more upsetting and disgusting. Having been brought up and lived in this country, with all its values, I find it really hard to understand.

“It has allowed Greece to extend their jurisdiction, because they do not need to produce the evidence. That is despite the alleged wrongdoings happening in Britain – even the dealer I sold to says that.”

It was disclosed this week that the number of people in Britain seized under the “no evidence needed” warrant rose by more than 50 per cent last year.

David Blunkett, the former home secretary who introduced the warrant, said he had been “insufficiently sensitive” about how it could be “overused”. Mr Hay showed The Daily Telegraph the invoice of the transaction at the centre of the claims by Greek authorities.

It shows that on July 15, 1999, he sold a female trader from Athens 582 potsherds and other small items for £1,800. He said he bought them at fairs and described the artefacts as “junk”.

But at the same time, Greek police were investigating the female trader, who ran a shop in Athens. She was found to have more than £100,000 worth of unbroken pots and figurines from around 4-6BC, which by national law belonged to the Greek state. She then claimed she bought them from Mr Hay.

After his arrest in 2007 at passport control on the way home from a trip to Zurich, Mr Hay successfully fought extradition after a magistrate ruled that Greek authorities abused the correct processes to accuse him of the crime.

But a trial went ahead in Athens, with the Greek dealer and Mr Hay, represented by a local lawyer, both accused.

The female dealer was cleared. To Mr Hay’s “complete shock”, he was found guilty and jailed for four years. He has appealed against the verdict and is awaiting a hearing later this year. If he loses the appeal, the extradition process will begin again.

August 29th, 2010

Posted In: customs and law enforcement, law enforcement and investigation, legal issues and the law

Danvers man charged with stealing historic items from library

By Bella Travaglini, Town Correspondent

Acting on an anonymous tip, Danvers police this weekend arrested a Danvers man who is accused of stealing two precious metal items from the library and selling them at an Everett scrapyard.

Police arrested Richard Provencher, 48, at his Purchase Street home around 9 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 7, said Sgt. Robert Bettencourt, and charged him with two counts of receiving stolen property and two counts of drug possession after they found pills on him during the arrest. He is accused of stealing an historic 19th century decorative copper urn and large copper plaque, which had each been donated to the Peabody Institute Library.

On Friday, Aug. 6 police received a call from someone had gave them a description of Provencher’s white pickup truck and license plate after seeing him bring a large plaque with the word “Danvers” on it into an Everett scrap yard called Scrap It, said Bettencourt.

Earlier Friday morning, the town’s building maintenance department reported to police that a large, 3 feet by 3 feet bronze plaque weighing 100 lbs.,which had been donated to the Peabody Institute Library of Danvers at 15 Sylvan St. by the Danvers Rotary Club in 1999, was missing from the outdoor gazebo, said Bettencourt.

After receiving the tip, police contacted the scrapyard and confirmed that a man had brought in the plaque with other scrap metal to sell, said Bettencourt.

Police asked about an urn, which had been reported missing from the library earlier in the week, and the scrap shop confirmed that they had the urn and had purchased it earlier last week from the same man for $1,400, said Bettencourt.

The urn’s metal is valued at about $4,000, and was donated to the library by a former library trustee, said Bettencourt. Police were unable to place an accurate monetary value on the 19th century urn due to its historical nature, he said.

Provencher was released on $2,500 bail sometime over the weekend and is set to be arraigned today in Salem District Court.

August 10th, 2010

Posted In: lawsuit, legal issues and the law

Trial in $121,000 library theft begins today

By Chris Paschenko
The Daily News
Published August 9, 2010
GALVESTON — Jury selection is expected to begin today in the trial of the former head of maintenance for Rosenberg Library, who is accused of stealing more than $121,000.

Terry Ray Merchant, 52, was accused of unlawfully appropriating money between May 1999 and March 2006 without the consent of John F. Augelli, the library’s executive director, according to a 2007 grand jury indictment on a theft charge.

An indictment isn’t a guilty verdict. It means the grand jury heard enough evidence to send the case to trial.

Merchant was employed for about 12 years at the library and was dismissed in April 2006 for an unrelated reason, Galveston police said. The library conducted an audit weeks later, and auditors reportedly found $121,584 that the library paid to nine companies that seemed to exist only on paper, police said.

Police traced the nine companies to a man who’d established six post office boxes to receive payments, a police investigator said.

Merchant, through his attorney, Mark Stevens, sought a dismissal of the case, claiming the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office targeted him through selective prosecution.

Judge John Ellisor, of Galveston’s 122nd District Court, denied the motion in April, according to court documents.

Stevens argued disputes of this nature are ordinarily declined by prosecutors with recommendations that similar cases be pursued as civil matters.

Merchant cited examples in which people weren’t prosecuted, referencing two articles in The Daily News.

Those articles reported the district attorney’s office declined to prosecute individuals who misappropriated cantaloupes or other produce from Del Monte and individuals who diverted $110,000 from College of the Mainland to a nonprofit entity, the motion states.

The selective prosecution stemmed from Merchant filing a lawsuit against the library, the motion states.

Merchant was fired April 4, 2006, by Augelli, and insubordination was the reason listed for the termination, the motion states.

In 2007, Merchant sued the library association, alleging employment discrimination and racial discrimination.

Merchant’s position and duties were assumed by an African-American assistant of his, who could be a key witness for the state, the motion states.

Police records show Augelli brought the matter to the district attorney’s office instead of reporting it to Galveston police, the motion states.

Prosecutors are seeking a punishment enhancement based on Merchant’s felony arson conviction in 1987, according to the theft indictment.

August 10th, 2010

Posted In: legal issues and the law, library theft

Judge rules against Russia on Jewish documents
By PETE YOST (AP) – 1 day ago

WASHINGTON — A federal judge has issued a judgment against the Russian government for its refusal to return a library of historic books and documents to a Jewish group.

Royce Lamberth, the chief judge of U.S. District Court in Washington, ruled that taking the material was discriminatory, not for a public purpose and occurred without just compensation to the Jewish religious organization that is suing, Chabad-Lubavitch.

At issue are 12,000 religious books and manuscripts seized during the Bolshevik revolution and the Russian Civil War from 1917 to 1925 and 25,000 pages of handwritten teachings and other writings of religious leaders stolen by Nazi Germany during World War II.

The documents seized by the Nazis were transferred by the Soviet Red Army as trophy documents and war booty to the Russian State Military Archive.

Last year, lawyers for the Russian government argued that judges have no authority to tell the country how to handle the sacred Jewish documents.

Under the U.S. Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, a sovereign nation is not immune to lawsuits in cases where property is taken in violation of international law.

Lamberth found that the religious group had established its claim to the material, which he said is “unlawfully” possessed by the Russian State Library and the Russian military archive.

According to court papers reciting the history behind the case, Russian President Boris Yeltsin once gave an explicit assurance to President George H.W. Bush’s emissary, Secretary of State James Baker, that the Russian government would return the library of religious books and manuscrupts to Chabad-Lubavitch.

Lamberth issued his decision on Friday.

Nathan Lewin, a long-time Washington lawyer representing the religious group, said that the U.S. government “has always supported the return of these materials. I would hope that the State Department would not interfere with enforcement of this order.”

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

August 6th, 2010

Posted In: legal issues and the law