By: BROOKE DONALD
10/06/09 6:50 PM PDT
SALINAS, CALIF. — Two men who claim thieves broke into their rental home in the ritzy coastal enclave of Pebble Beach and made off with millions of dollars worth of art were named as suspects in the case Tuesday.
Monterey County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Mike Richards said Benjamin Amadio and Dr. Ralph Hennaugh may be involved in a “criminal enterprise,” and that authorities were investigating “other scenarios.”
“This whole thing stinks,” Richards said. He would not provide details.
He said Amadio and Hennaugh were not cooperating with investigators and were unable to produce proof that the artwork even exists, let alone that it was stolen.
Amadio denied the allegations.
“We’re just dumbfounded by what the sheriff is saying,” Amadio, 31, told The Associated Press. “Why would anyone in their right mind make this up?”
The men reported the alleged theft on Sept. 25. They said works by Jackson Pollock, G.H. Rothe, Matisse, Miro, Rembrandt, Renoir, Van Gogh and others were taken.
Amadio said their collection, which includes several other pieces of art, was appraised in 2002 at $27.5 million.
He said other collectors now estimate the works could be valued at nearly $80 million. The Jackson Pollock alone, he said, could be estimated at about $40 million.
Seven pieces of the collection — not including the Pollock — were insured for $72,000, and Amadio said they had been considering adding coverage for the rest of the artwork but needed to improve security at the Pebble Beach home first.
He said an insurance agent had been to the house a few days before the alleged theft and viewed the artwork and documentation of the paintings’ authenticity.
The sheriff’s department said it has seen no such paperwork.
“There has been no response to requests for photographs, receipts, identification of sellers, nothing,” Richards said.
He said Amadio and Hennaugh, a retired Boston oncologist and former Harvard Medical School professor, could face charges of filing a false police report. He said fraud charges also could be considered if the evidence eventually points in that direction.
Amadio, who moved to California from Boston three years ago, said all of the documents that accompanied the paintings were stolen. He alleged the sheriff’s department has botched the investigation.
“It’s unacceptable that they say these pieces don’t exist … They’re covering their tracks either out of incompetence or corruption,” he said.
Hennaugh, 62, said authorities see this as “just a theft” and not an important enough crime to investigate thoroughly.
The men, who met about 10 years ago and became business partners, said investigators did not do a complete job sweeping the house for evidence the day the alleged burglary was reported and have ignored e-mails from their lawyer.
Richards said his department has been stalled by a lack of cooperation from the alleged victims.
“We feel manipulated,” he said. “Bottom line is this is a simple investigation.”
Detectives interviewed one person identified to them by Amadio and Hennaugh, but eliminated him as a suspect, Richards said. The man transported the work from Boston to the Pebble Beach home three months ago.
Richards said the man had an alibi.
Amadio said his lawyer has provided to the sheriff’s department several names of people who can authenticate the paintings’ existence and people who also may be involved in the burglary. The men believe the alleged heist was carried out by professional art thieves, and said they have no motivation to perpetrate a hoax.
“We have $72,000 worth of insurance. That’s all we’d get,” Amadio said. “If we wanted money, we would’ve sold the art. It’s worth millions.”
(This version corrects value estimated by owners of collection.)