In the 25 years since the biggest museum heist in American history—a theft wherein 13 works worth a total of $500 million today were lifted from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston—authorities have made zero arrests, found zero substantial clues, and recovered zero of the stolen works, which include masterpieces by Vermeer and Rembrandt. Then, on Friday, federal authorities announced that a man who was arrested for trying to sell a gun to an undercover agent is Robert Gentile, an alleged mobster who apparently has strong connections to the 1990 operation that left frames empty of their nearly priceless canvases.
But there was little to go on in terms of evidence until Monday’s hearing, when prosecutor John Durham revealed this juicy anecdote. He claimed that Mr. Gentile had boasted to an undercover agent that he had access to two of the 13 stolen works, and that he was willing to sell them for $500,000 each. The claim, if true, would be the first substantial piece of news regarding exactly how two people dressed like policemen waltzed into the Boston museum and absconded with pieces by Degas, Manet and Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee.
Could this all be slander against Mr. Gentile, an 79-year-old man who came to the hearing in a wheelchair? Here’s a bit from the story in The Boston Globe:
Gentile’s attorney, A. Ryan McGuigan, said his client began working with the FBI 3 1/2 years ago to help find the stolen artwork. But because the FBI believes Gentile has not been forthcoming with everything he knows about the heist, McGuigan said, the agency has set up his client for arrests twice in the last three years.
“It’s my argument that a crime isn’t committed if it’s not orchestrated by the FBI,” said McGuigan, who said his client is not withholding any information.
It seems like there’s some meddling going on here, but probably not on the part of the FBI. Mr. Gentile has supposedly been associated with the Philadelphia mob for some time, which could explain his vow of silence. And the argument that he would give up information in exchange for clemency doesn’t exactly hold water—in fact, Mr. Durham claimed that Mr. Gentile told the undercover agent he was worried the FBI would lock him up regardless of whether he has loose lips or not.
But the bottom line is, even if we’re finally getting the first nuggets of knowledge on the Gardner heist after a quarter of a century, we’re not much closer to seeing the works by Degas and Manet. They could really be anywhere.