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West Virginia man pleads guilty to Gardner Museum fraud

By Danielle Haynes
West Virginia man pleads guilty to Gardner Museum fraud
Todd Andrew Desper told a security director at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum to send him $5 million in exchange for "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee" by Rembrandt, which was not in his possession. File Image courtesy Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Feb. 16 (UPI) -- A West Virginia man has pleaded guilty to fraud for his attempt to sell paintings stolen from a Boston art museum, the Justice Department said.

Todd Andrew Desper, 48, pleaded guilty in federal court in Boston to four counts of wire fraud and attempted wire fraud.

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Desper, who used the online handle "Mordokwan," never had access to any of the 13 paintings stolen in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, but offered two of them for sale on Craigslist. He solicited foreign buyers for Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt and The Concert by Johannes Vermeer.

Prosecutors said Desper directed interested buyers to create an encrypted email account to communicate with him.

"At the direction of federal authorities, the security director for the Gardner Museum engaged in encrypted communications with Desper in an attempt to determine whether Desper had access to the stolen masterpieces," the Department of Justice said.

Desper told the security director to send him a cashier's check for $5 million and that the Rembrandt painting would be sent in return.

"The investigation ultimately revealed that Desper had no access to, nor information about, the stolen paintings, but was instead engaged in a multi-million dollar fraud scheme targeting foreign art buyers," the department said.

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The FBI arrested Desper in May.

U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel in the district of Massachusetts, scheduled Desper's sentencing for May 15. He faces a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine up to $250,000 for each count.

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