ANCHORAGE, Alaska, May 4 (UPI) -- The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will retain custody of five paintings stolen in New England in 2005 while investigators trace their route to Alaska.
Wildlife agents investigating a Glenallen, Alaska, couple suspected of trafficking in illegal animal parts discovered the paintings in their home, the Anchorage Daily News reported. They also found marijuana, coca plants and machine guns.
Jesse Leboeuf and Loretta Sternbach pleaded guilty in 2011 and are now in prison for selling walrus ivory, polar bear hides and machine guns.
The agency has begun the legal process of getting the paintings, including a work by the
Bruce Woods, a Fish and Wildlife spokesman, said cracking an art theft may be a first for the agency.
"I'm not aware that we've ever seized artwork, other than handicraft, you know, illegal animal products used in artwork," he said.
The paintings were stolen from Nicolette Wernick, presumably by employees of a moving company when she moved from Boston to Connecticut. Leboeuf told undercover Fish and Wildlife agents hey bought them from relatives who stole them from the original thieves during a party. He also offered to sell them for $1 million if the agents could find a buyer.
The ownership of the paintings is unclear, partly because Wernick received an insurance payout of about $400,000, about half what she says they are worth. She hopes to get them back because she was forced to sell the rest of her art collection after losing most of her money to Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff.