One of two suspects in art theft might be a victim, officials say

By Shelley Murphy, Globe Staff  |  October 9, 2009

Two weeks after a former Harvard Medical School instructor and his business partner reported that burglars stole artwork by Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, and other masters valued at up to $80 million from their upscale California rental home, the case, which authorities have branded a possible hoax, took another twist yesterday.

Investigators, who previously identified the alleged victims, Dr. Ralph Kennaugh and Angelo Benjamin Amadio, as suspects in the theft are considering the possibility the doctor was a victim of Amadio, a spokesman for the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office said yesterday.

“That is one scenario we’re looking at,’’ said Commander Mike Richards. “There have been untruthful and inconsistent statements presented to us by Mr. Amadio.’’

In a telephone interview from California last night, Kennaugh, 62, who worked as a radiation oncologist at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Worcester until March and was an instructor at Harvard Medical School, called the allegation “ridiculous.’’

“Ben and I have been friends and business partners for 10 years now,’’ he said.

Amadio, 31, a former Boston restaurant manager and art collector who said he is attending law school, accused the sheriff of botching the investigation into the Sept. 25 alleged theft at their Pebble Beach home and unfairly blaming the victims.

In an e-mail to the Globe responding to statements by Richards, Amadio said he and Kennaugh each had a 50 percent stake in the artwork, “thus we are both equally at a loss.’’

“There is very little insurance in comparison to what was stolen, so no motive,’’ he said. “Please stop attacking us.’’

But Richards said investigators have been frustrated by a lack of cooperation from Amadio and Kennaugh since they reported that thieves broke into their home and stole the artwork, which had been shipped cross-country from Boston weeks earlier in a rental truck.

The men said that most of the artwork, including a Jackson Pollock worth millions, was not insured, and that they had coverage only of about $72,000 for seven pieces, including two sketchings by Rembrandt and another by Renoir. They also said the thieves stole documentation and hard drives that could have verified their ownership and the authenticity of the works.

Four days after the theft, Amadio and Kennaugh said, they discovered a ransom note tucked behind a painting that had been left in the home. The sheriff’s office met the discovery with suspicion because investigators had been through the residence “with a fine-tooth comb’’ and did not find the note, Richards said.

“The bottom line is they still haven’t cooperated with us,’’ said Richards, adding that the two men have yet to give investigators any documentation about the artwork or photographs. He said the only images investigators have seen are those that Kennaugh and Amadio have shared with the news media.

“We’re actively pursuing this on face value and the fact that it seems like a hoax right now,’’ Richards said.

Amadio said a lawyer representing him and Kennaugh will release images of the artwork and some documentation from an insurance company during a press conference today in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Amadio said they plan to release the same information to the sheriff’s office prior to releasing it to the news media.

Kennaugh sold his home on Clarendon Street in Boston’s Back Bay for $1.75 million in early August, according to real estate records, then moved to California.

Amadio said a former New England Patriot player who had been a neighbor of the two men in Boston had seen some of their artwork and could verify their ownership. But a spokesman for the player, whose name is being withheld by the Globe, said he declined to comment.

A Boston real estate agent, who arranged the sale of Kennaugh’s home and spoke on the condition that he not be named, said the walls of the residence were covered with artwork, but he did not know if they were authentic.

Jerry Seagreaves, an agent for Farmers Insurance in Capitola, Calif., confirmed yesterday that he transferred an insurance policy from Massachusetts to California for Kennaugh; it provided coverage for the contents of his home and seven of the artworks which were stolen. Seagreaves said the stolen artworks are covered by about $70,000 to $75,000 in insurance.

Seagreaves said he had not appraised the artwork before transferring the policy, since the policy was remaining with the same company, AIG. He said he was awaiting documentation, including the appraisal, from an insurance agent in Boston.

“We are at this point trying to work out what was stolen,’’ said Seagreaves. “Our claims adjusters are waiting to do their own investigation. . . . We will do our best to settle the claim as fairly as possible.”

Before Kennaugh left Boston, he was employed as a radiation oncologist by Harvard Medical Faculty Physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which assigned him to St. Vincent’s. He was terminated July 31, said Jerry Berger, a spokesman for Beth Israel. He declined to release any additional information.

Kennaugh said the termination was a technicality. He said he applied for a disability when he retired in March, then was terminated in July when the disability was approved.

Kennaugh said the etchings by Rembrandt and Renoir were not worth much and were among the seven stolen items covered by insurance.

But, he said, he never bought insurance on his most valuable works because it would have cost too much.

“I’ve been collecting them for 20 to 30 years,’’ he said. “I just enjoy the art; I’m not worried about appraising them.’’ 

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