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FBI identifies thieves in $500 million art heist

Posted By GABRIELLE LEVY, UPI.com   |   March 18, 2013 at 2:12 PM   |   Comments

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March 18 (UPI) -- More than 20 years after thieves walked out of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston with $500 million in stolen art, the FBI says it has identified the culprits.

At a press conference Monday, the FBI appealed to the public to help track down the 13 pieces of art at the center of the largest property crime in U.S. history.

In a shocking announcement Monday, FBI special agent Richard DesLauriers said investigators had tracked the art from Boston to Connecticut and Philadelphia about a decade ago.

"The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence in the years after the theft the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region and some of the art was taken to Philly where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft," DesLauriers said.

"With that confidence, we have identified the thieves, who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England.”

The Bureau, with the Gardner Museum and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Massachusetts, announced a $5 million reward from the museum for information that leads to the paintings, which include rare Rembrandt and Vermeer works.

"Unfortunately, we haven’t identified where they are right now and that’s why we are coming to the public for their help,” said Geoff Kelly, the FBI special agent spearheading the investigation out of the Boston office.

Officials at the Monday press conference said the emphasis of the renewed campaign, which would include billboards and public advertising similar to the campaign that helped capture gangster James "Whitey" Bulger, was to recover the stolen works, not prosecute the crime.

U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen Ortiz said at the conference that immunity will be part of the conversation. Although the statute of limitations for the robbery has passed, Ortiz said thieves could face potential criminal liability for possessing the stolen works.

The reward is "for information that leads directly to the recovery of all of our items in good condition," said Anthony Amore, the museum's chief of security. "What that means is that you don’t have to hand us the paintings to be eligible for the reward.”

“We hope that through this type of public campaign, people will see how earnest we are in our attempts to pay this reward and make our institution whole.”

Early in the morning on March 18, 1990, two men disguised as Boston Police officers snuck into the museum and walked away with the largest haul of any theft in U.S. history.

Exactly 23 years later, the Vermeer, several Rembrandts, a Manet, five Degas sketches, an ancient Chinese vessel, a landscape by Govaert Flinck, and a finial from a Napoleonic flag remain missing.

Monday's announcement shows a degree of confidence from officials who have been stymied in their search for more than two decades.

Follow @gabbilevy and @UPI on Twitter.
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