Archive for the ‘Looting’ Category

Ohio university returns looted mosaics to Turkey

Sunday, December 2nd, 2018

Bowling Green State University has agreed to repatriate 12 mosaics to Turkey after discovering they had been looted from the ancient site of Zeugma. The university bought the mosaics in 1965 for $35,000 from New York antiquities dealer Peter Marks. There was little paperwork on the provenance of these mosaics, but the claim was that they were from Antioch, modern-day Antakya also in Turkey, raised by Princeton University archaeologists in an approved excavation in the 1930s and exported legally as their share of the finds according to the old partage system.

Those excavations, led by eminent archaeologist George W. Elderkin, discovered literally hundreds of mosaics in elite villas of the ancient city which had been one of the most important in the Roman Empire. Many of them were lifted, divided among the sponsors and either stored, exhibited or installed as architectural features. Princeton had a bit of mosaic fire sale in the early 1960s, and many smaller institutions scored Antioch mosaic panels at that time.

So the Antioch origin wasn’t an outlandish proposition in and of itself, but there was some shadiness. For example, the fact that 11 of the 12 mosaics panels were pulled up in a haphazard fashion with ragged, broken floral and geometric pieces attached the main figural panel should have raise red flags. It didn’t.

Many decades later in 2012, the sections were conserved so they could go on display in a handsomely lit underfloor installation covered with a thick coating of protective glass in the newly opened Wolfe Center for the Arts at BSGU. Dr. Stephanie Langin-Hooper, then assistant professor of ancient art history at BSGU, was asked to find out more about the mosaics and present her findings at a symposium dedicated to the artworks. She invited colleague Dr. Rebecca Molholt, an expert in Roman mosaics at Brown University, to work with her in researching the pieces.

They looked for the mosaics in Princeton’s enormous archaeological archive documentating more than a hundred excavations including the Elderkin digs. They couldn’t find the BGSU mosaics anywhere in the archive. When they looked further afield, they discovered the far more likely source was ancient Zeugma, only this was no approved excavation and partage arrangement.

“That site had been extensively looted … and comparing photographs of looted sites, we were able to pinpoint the exact location, the particular room in a mosaic house, where the fragments came from,” Ms. Langin-Hooper said. “A lot of the mosaic was looted and BGSU does not have all of it. Some of the mosaic, we don’t know where it is. It could be at another university, or lost or who knows, but there was enough there, the particular geometric patterning, the coloring, the size of the tesserae, the individual tiles, everything was a match.”

The pieces of chiseled stone and glass depicting masks of ancient Greek figures and birds surrounded by geometric and floral patterns in yellows, whites, reds, greens, and browns, formed part of a frame of a mosaic panel known as “Gypsy Girl,” a symbol for the city of Gaziantep. The professors discovered that 11 of the pieces, measuring about 12 by 12 inches, were part of the same floor. The 12th piece, 2 by 3 feet in size, depicts the mask of an ancient Greek female figure and was determined by Ms. Langin-Hooper and Ms. Molholt to have come from the same villa.

“Its edges are straight and even, indicating that they were cleaned up and possibly repaired or restored, sometime before the mosaic was purchased by BGSU,” Ms. Langin-Hooper wrote in an article.

To BGSU’s major credit, they contacted the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism and informed them of the recent findings. Ministry experts investigated the mosaics and confirmed that the professors’ were right.

“As a public university, we have a special obligation to contribute to the public good. That obligation extends to the global community,” Rogers said. “The preservation and care of the mosaics has been a priority for BGSU for the last 53 years. We have relied upon the expertise of scholars to guide us, both when we acquired the pieces and now. Thanks to the work of Dr. Langin-Hooper and others, it is clear today that the best place for these precious artifacts is back in the Republic of Turkey at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum. We greatly appreciate the collegiality of the Turkish Ministry of Culture in working with us through this process.”

The agreement was signed on Monday, November 19th. Its terms stipulate that the mosaics will be crated, packed and transported the long way home. The cost will be paid by Turkey’s directorate. When they arrive, conservators will puzzle the mosaic panels together with other pieces found during legal excavations at Zeugma in the 1990s. BGSU will receive high-quality replicas of the mosaics and a plaque explaining the whole story. It hasn’t been decided yet where they will be displayed.

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Last looted apostle mosaic returned to Cyprus

Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

A 6th century mosaic of St. Mark torn from the walls of Panagia Kanakaria church in northern Cyprus in the wake of the 1974 Turkish invasion has been repatriated. The monastery church, originally built in the 5th century, was renown for its early Byzantine mosaics depicting Jesus, Mary and the apostles. They were extremely rare, stylistically unique and some of the most important early Christian art in the world by virtue of having survived the Iconoclastic orgy of destruction during the 8th and 9th centuries.

In the late 1970s, they were plundered and sold in pieces to unscrupulous dealers who sold them all over the world to equally unscrupulous buyers. With a great deal of work by heritage organizations, police and committed individuals, almost all of the mosaics have been found in the decades since the brutalization of Panagia Kanakaria. Most recently, the medallion of the apostle St. Andrew was repatriated this April after four years of negotiation with a recalcitrant owner. It was the 11th of the 12 stolen apostle mosaics to be located and returned to Cyprus, leaving only St. Mark still on the lam.

Arthur Brand, who runs a firm that specializes in the recovery of looted artworks and stars in a Dutch TV program called The Art Detective which follows his cases, joined the hunt for the Mark mosaic three years ago. With the support of the Church of Cyprus and the Cypriot government, he was able to follow the trail thanks to tips from informants and his own detecting skill. Finally Brand found St. Mark in Monaco.

“It was in the possession of a British family, who bought the mosaic in good faith more than four decades ago,” Mr Brand said.

“They were horrified when they found out that it was in fact a priceless art treasure,” Mr Brand said.[…]

The family agreed to return it “to the people of Cyprus” in return for a small fee to cover restoration and storage costs, he added.

Arthur Brand recovered the mosaic from Monaco last week. On Friday, November 16th, he formally returned it to the Embassy of Cyprus in The Hague, The Netherlands. On Sunday, November 18th, St. Mark was home. That leaves only one piece of the Panagia Kanakaria mosaics still missing: the feet of Christ. Brand is on it.

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Enthroned Zeus returns home to Baiae

Saturday, November 17th, 2018

A statue of Zeus that was part of the ill-gotten antiquities in the collection of the J. Paul Getty Museum has returned to its place of origin, the Archaeological Park of Campi Flegrei at the Castle of Baiae on the Gulf of Naples. The museum acquired the statue in 1992 under the tenure of Marion True who would later be tried for her long history of buying looting antiquities from shady dealers. The Getty bought it from Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman, wealthy private collectors who had a $60 million collection of antiquities. They got this statue and many, many others like it from infamous loot dealer, perjurer and cheater Robin Symes.

The lack of export paperwork or ownership history was no deterrent to these acquisitions, and the Getty only agreed to return the statue in 2017, five years after a missing piece of it was found by local archaeologists in the ancient resort town of Baiae, modern-day Bacoli. The statue was repatriated in June 2017 and put on display at the National Archeological Museum in Naples. In late October it was loaned to Archaeological Park of Campi Flegrei so it could take part in a new exhibition of artworks that once adorned the villas of the rich and powerful at Baiae and environs.

Fresco of Zeus enthroned inspired by Pheidias sculpture, Casa dei Dioscuri, Pompeii. National Archeological Museum of Naples.Zeus Enthroned is a 29-inch-high marble statue dating to the 1st century B.C. and is likely of Greek manufacture. It was inspired by the colossal gold and ivory statue of the god at the temple of Zeus at Olympia made by sculptor Pheidias in 430 B.C. It was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. First century orator and philosopher Dio Chrysostom wrote about it in glowing terms in his Olympic Discourse:

For verily even the irrational brute creation would be so struck with awe if they could catch merely a glimpse of yonder statue, not only the bulls which are being continually led to the altar, so that they would willingly submit themselves to the priests who perform the rites of sacrifice, if so they would be giving some pleasure to the god, but eagles too, and horses and lions, so that they would subdue their untamed and savage spirits and preserve perfect quiet, delighted by the vision; and of men, whoever is sore distressed in soul, having in the course of his life drained the cup of many misfortunes and griefs, nor ever winning sweet sleep — even this man, methinks, if he stood before this image, would forget all the terrors and hardships that fall to our human lot.

The temple of Zeus was abandoned in the 4th century when emperor Theodosius I banned the Olympic games and all the religious rituals attendant to them in 393 A.D. It’s known when the statue was destroyed.

By then, Pheidias’ masterpiece had been considered the pinnacle of Classical Greek sculpture for 700 years and it was widely copied in the Greco-Roman world. A fresco of Zeus enthroned holding a statue of Nike (Victory), a scepter with an eagle by his side a fresco was found in the Casa dei Dioscuri in Pompeii and is now in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples. A statue 11 feet high created in the 1st century A.D. and discovered at the villa of Emperor Domitian (now at the Hermitage Museum) meticulously copied the original, using marble, gilded wood and stucco to capture the beauty of the chryselephantine technique.

The Zeus Enthroned sits on a throne, a high-backed one, and rests his feet on a stool. His right arm is raised high, his left by his side. His raised hand likely held a high scepter and his left a thunderbolt. If it precisely matched the Pheidias statue, however, the left hand would have held a statuette of the goddess of Victory. The attributes are long missing as is the right hand so it’s hard to know what he carried.

Evidence of marine life is rife on the right side of the statue and its condition is far more deteriorated there than on the left side. The statue was likely resting on its left side in the sand of the seabed. The sand protected it from the elements. Before then, it was probably part of a home shrine in one of the elegant country villas that were so popular among the wealthy of the late Roman Republic.

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Three stolen Moundville artifacts recovered

Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

It’s been almost 40 years since thieves broke into the Erskine Ramsey Archaeological Repository at the Moundville Archaeological Site near Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and made off with 264 Native American artifacts, a fifth of the total number of artifacts excavated at the site and an agonizing 70% of the museum-quality pieces. Clay vessels exemplifying eight centuries of Mississippian artistry and craftsmanship were gone without a trace.

Thirty-eight years passed. Not a single one of hundreds of stolen objects was found in all that time. An FBI investigation turned up nothing and ended in the late 1980s. This May, a private organization of archaeologists and other donors decided to heat up this long-cold case by offering a reward for information leading to the recovery of any of the stolen artifacts. The Associates for the Return of Moundville Artifacts ultimately raised enough money for a $25,000 reward and established a confidential tip line (still active at 205-348-2800) for would-be informants to call. Nobody expected it to work.

It worked. Less than three months after the reward was announced, three clay pottery vessels stolen from the Erskine Ramsey Archaeological Repository in 1980 were returned to the Moundville Archaeological Park.

“We were all thinking we’d go to our graves without anything turning up from this burglary,” said Jim Knight, curator emeritus of American Archaeology for the Alabama Museum of Natural History at UA, at a press conference held to announce the find Monday. “This is one of the most exciting things that has happened during my archaeological career.” […]

“I didn’t have a whole lot of hope for actual recovery,” said John Abbott, director of Museum Research and Collections for the Alabama Museum of Natural History. “In fact, I was stunned when there were some that turned up.”

As the investigation is ongoing, authorities are not commenting on the how and why of the vessels’ recovery. All they’ll say is that nobody has claimed the $25,000 reward.

The pots were made for ceremonial use and are in impeccable condition. Whatever adventures they’ve experienced over the past four decades have not damaged them in any way. There are no chips, fractures or scratches. The original museum marks are still on them.

All three vessels depict religiously significant iconography. One features a skull, skeletal forearms and hands with crosses inside. Two are incised with images of a winged serpent, a combination creature like a sphinx or chimera with the tail of a rattlesnake, the antlers of a deer and bird wings. In the Mississippian culture at Moundville, the snake god was the lord of the underworld.

Bill Bomar, executive director for University of Alabama Museums, noted the advances in research into iconography, symbols and art that have taken place since the theft nearly four decades ago. UA faculty and students will also be able to study whether the vessels originated or were traded here.

“All of this has advanced in the last 40 years, and we haven’t had these artifacts to do those kinds of studies on,” he said. “Hopefully with these, and any additional ones that are recovered, our information about Moundville is going to increase greatly.”

The pieces will go on display at Moundville Archaeological Park shortly.

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Twice-stolen Persian bas-relief returns to Iran

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

An ancient Persian bas-relief that has been stolen twice in two places across the world from each other has returned to Iran. It is a carved slab of limestone eight inches square depicting a curly-bearded “Immortal” (imperial guard) from the Achaemenid dynasty. He was one of a long line of soldier reliefs arrayed in precise formation on a balustrade besides the steps of Persepolis’ main building. They were carved between 510 and 330 B.C.

The bas-relief was discovered in Persepolis in a 1933 excavation of the site by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Contemporary photographs show the relief in situ, part of a line of imperial soldiers. Photographs show it still in place and untouched at least up to 1936. After that it vanished, reappearing 15 years later in the hands of French antiquities dealer and expert in Mediterranean sculpture Paul Mallon. Mallon sold it to Canadian department store heir and collector Frederick Cleveland Morgan for a comparative pittance ($1,000). Morgan donated the relief to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in the 1950s. It was on display there for six decades.

It was stolen again in September 2011 when a man wearing jeans, a dark jacket and a baseball cap casually walked into the museum in broad daylight and walked out with the Persian relief and a 1st century Roman marble head of a man. The brazen crime was never solved, but the bas relief was found in January of 2014 in the Edmonton home of a collector who claimed he thought it was a replica when he bought it from “a friend of a friend” for $1400 Canadian.

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts decided to keep the $950,000 insurance payout it received after the theft and let its insurer, AXA, keep the title to the relief. AXA sold it to British antiquities dealer Rupert Wace. In October 2017, Wace offered the piece for sale for $1.2 million at The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF). There it was, exposed to some of New York City’s deepest pockets, when the cops and city prosecutors waltzed in and seized it. The vociferous protests of the dealers — apparently the language got a tad bluer than the TEFAF crowd is accustomed to — fell on deaf ears.

Wace and his partner were shocked because the relief had been published and displayed extensively for 80 years, long before the 1970 UNESCO convention cutoff on the illegal export of cultural artifacts, but the Manhattan district attorney’s office was acting on evidence that the relief had been stolen after Persian passed the Cultural Heritage Protection Act in 1930 prohibiting the export of such artifacts.

The Manhattan DA created a full timeline of tracing the location and ownership history of the relief. Their contention was that nobody could own stolen property “in good faith” because there is no valid title to transfer in a sale and because the buyer should do his due diligence in ascertaining the reality of an object’s provenance instead of relying on conjecture. In this case, dealers said they just assumed the bas-relief had been looted from Persepolis in the 19th century. They had no evidence to support that hypothesis nor did they make any effort to determine its veracity.

In July of this year, a New York Supreme Court judge ordered that the relief be repatriated to Iran. After some negotiations, the London dealers agreed to fork it over. As of this week, the relief is back on Persian soil.

“It now belongs to the people who made it in the first place, and who are now going to preserve it, and is part of their identity,” Firouzeh Sepidnameh, director of the ancient history section of the National Museum told AFP on Tuesday.

The limestone relief was handed over to Iran’s representative at the United Nations last month and was personally brought back to Iran by President Hassan Rouhani, returning from the UN General Assembly.

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Tiny but mighty looted Thracian tomb excavated

Sunday, September 30th, 2018

A Hellenistic era Thracian tomb near the town of Rozovo has been found to be the smallest ancient Thracian brick tomb ever excavated in Bulgaria. It is a beehive tomb, known in Greek as a tholos (“domed”) tomb because of the progressively smaller stacked rings of bricks that create an interior false dome that looks similar to a beehive. The style and materials of the construction date it to the first half of the 3rd century B.C.

The Rozovo tomb is two miles from the Kazanlak Tomb, a 4th century B.C. tomb whose beehive dome is covered in elaborate murals depicting a funeral feast. The Kazanlak Tomb, declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, is much larger and more expensively built and decorated than the Rozovo tomb, but they have one very important thing in common: they are the only beehive tombs ever found in Bulgaria whose domes are fully intact.

The Kazanlak Valley in central Bulgaria is famed for the great number of Thracian tombs in the area, most of them unexplored. There are an estimated 1,500 tumuli and only 300 of them have been officially excavated by archaeologists. All of those unmonitored, clearly distinguishable archaeological sites are frequent targets of looters hoping to find ancient funerary treasures which are eminently portable and in-demand goods on the illicit antiquities market.

The little beehive tomb slumbered undisturbed in the embrace of the burial mound above it for two thousand years or so until it was brutally assaulted by looters in 2010. Their filthy work was immediately noticed, but it another eight years would pass before the Kazanlak Museum of History was able to secure the necessary funding from the Bulgarian government for the urgently-needed salvage excavation of the tomb.

It was undoubtedly worth the wait. Even with all the wanton destruction wrought by those brutes in 2010 and their emptying the tomb of its contents, the architectural remains of the tomb itself are archaeologically priceless.

Lead archaeologists Georgi Nehrizov:

“It is curious that the treasure hunters’ digs were illogical and even a little. One of them was outside the burial chamber, and exposed its outer wall, which is totally pointless. Another dig came from the west, reached the burial chamber, and pierced its wall, which is also totally useless, destroying part of the dome room,” Nehrizov says.

He explains that the Ancient Thracian tomb near Rozovo is of the type of the Kazanlak Tomb, with a burial chamber and a small antechamber.

“This Hellenistic Era Thracian brick tomb is the second one after the Kazanlak Tomb to be discovered with a fully preserved dome. Several other such brick tombs have been found in the Kazanlak Valley [the Valley of Odrysian Thracian Kings] but they are less preserved, and material from them was used for other structures in later periods,” Nehrizov explains.”This is the smallest tomb of this kind to have been discovered so far. The dome’s top is covered with a stone slab. It consists of 23 rows of bricks of various shapes and sizes. There are rectangular, square, and sectoral bricks, and some of them are very thick. Our excavations lead to the conclusion that the bricks were baked here on the spot depending on the detail that the architect and builder needed, and everything was made to fit together,” the archaeologist elaborates.

In front of the burial chamber and the antechamber, there was a shed covered with Laconian – type roof tiles, large flat tiles which were pieced together with curved tiles.

“Apparently, the shed was a wooden structure. Such sheds have been found in other Ancient Thracian tombs in the Kazanlak Valley such as Shushmanets, the Griffins’ Tomb, the Helvetia Tomb, but here the shed seems better preserved. The treasure hunters didn’t dig from the south,” Nehrizov adds.

On the outside, the Rozovo Tomb was plastered with river stones shaping what the Bulgarian archaeologists refer to as a “coat”, which both solidified the structure and prevented atmospheric water from penetrating the tomb.

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Looted Amenhotep I relief found in London

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

A relief of the cartouche of Amenhotep I, second pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty, has been found in London and is on its way back to Egypt. The relief was looted in 1988 from the Karnak Temple Complex in Luxor, an open-air museum so huge that it is conceivable someone could snatch a piece of limestone inscribed with the birth name of a pharaoh.

The object was rediscovered by an unnamed archaeologist who spotted it at a London auction a few months ago. He recognized it as the relief stolen from Karnak 30 years ago and alerted the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities. The Ministry stopped the piece from being auctioned and worked with British authorities to arrange for its repatriation. The relief was officially returned to the Egyptian embassy in London on Friday.

Very little information about the reign of Amenhotep I (r. 1526-1506 B.C.) has survived. There are only a few relevant inscriptions, one of which was found in the tomb of his architect Ineni. Ineni’s biographical inscription records that Amenhotep ordered the expansion of the Temple of Karnak with the construction of several new structures. None of them stood for long. The remains of some of them were found in the fill of later construction from the reign of Amenhotep III (ca. 1386-1349 B.C.).

On a personal note, it just so happens that I was at Karnak in 1988. I swear I didn’t swipe any cartouches, though. I didn’t even buy my mother a pendant cartouche of her name from the local souvenir shop, something she was bummed about for 25 years or so until she and my father finally went to Egypt and she bought for herself the cartouche pendant I had so brutally denied her when I was a dumb teenager. (It was expensive! I didn’t want to spend such a large amount of my cash at the beginning of the trip! I thought I’d have another chance! Reasons!)

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British Museum uncovers origin of looted objects, returns them to Iraq

Sunday, August 12th, 2018

Researchers at the British Museum solved a mystery both ancient and modern when they discovered the origin site of eight artifacts looted from Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Thanks to their efforts, the objects are now on their way back to Iraq.

The orphaned artifacts were in custody of the British Museum after having been seized in a police raid on a London antiquities dealer in May 2003. The dealer had no proof of ownership — I guess he hadn’t gotten around to forging a “Swiss private collection” document yet — or any other documentation about the artifacts, so they were confiscated by the authorities and were in storage for almost 15 years.

The cold case was heated up when the Metropolitan Police reformed its art and antiquities squad. The squad gave the objects to the British Museum this year in the hope that its experts might be able to figure out where the pieces came from so they could be repatriated. As it turned out, the British Museum was uniquely well-positioned to uncover the truth about these objects.

The eight artifacts consist of three fired clay cones with Sumerian cuneiform inscriptions, a fragment of a white gypsum mace-head inscribed in Sumerian, a polished river pebble with a cuneiform inscription in Sumerian, one red marble and one white marble stamp-seal amulet from the Jemdet Nasr period (ca. 3000 B.C.) in the form of a reclining sheep and one banded white chalcedony seal of a reclining sphinx from the Achaemenid period.

It was the three cones that gave the British Museum the information they needed to pinpoint the origin site. The all bore the identical Sumerian inscription, one that is also know from other inscribed ancient artifacts. It reads: “For Ningirsu, Enlil’s mighty warrior, Gudea, ruler of Lagash, made things function as they should (and) he built and restored for him his Eninnu, the White Thunderbird.” This inscription identified the cones as coming from the archaeological city of Girsu (modern-day Tello) in southern Iraq where the Eninnu temple once stood. The temple was sacred Eninnu’s patron god Ningirsu.

The great temple complex is in the Tell A area of Tello where ongoing excavations have found artifacts and remains elucidating the plan, size and design of the temple. Archaeologists from the British Museum have been excavating Tell A since 2016 as part of the Iraq Emergency Heritage Management Training Scheme, a program set up in response to the IS destruction of cultural patrimony that trains staff from the Iraq State Board of Antiquities and Heritage in the latest techniques of rescue archaeology. The initial survey of Tello in 2015 and 2016 found dozens of looter pits. They were shallow and appear to have been targeted, small-scale efforts probably done at night by a few individuals rather than the massive looting operations that ran roughshod over Iraq’s ancient sites in 2003.

The British Museum team at Tello found broken cones identical to those seized in London. Their shape was an imitation of tent pegs and they were originally placed in holes in the temple wall, offerings to the Sumerian Thunderbird, the lion-headed god who roared thunder and flashed lightning bolts from his body. That’s how the researchers were able to discover not just the site where the objects had been looted from, but the actual wall they had been inserted in originally.

On Friday, August 10th, the artifacts were officially returned to the Iraqi ambassador Salih Husain Ali in a ceremony at the British Museum.

Iraqi ambassador Salih Husain Ali … said the protection of antiquities was an international responsibility and praised the British Museum and its staff “for their exceptional efforts in the process of identifying and returning looted antiquities to Iraq. Such collaboration between Iraq and the United Kingdom is vital for the preservation of Iraqi heritage.”

St John Simpson, the assistant keeper at the Middle East department of the museum, said: “Uniquely we could trace them not just to the site but to within inches of where they were stolen from. This is a very happy outcome, nothing like this has happened for a very, very long time if ever.”

They will be returned to the national museum in Baghdad and reunited with many objects from the recent excavations, and may eventually be loaned to a museum near the site.

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Spanish ingot thieves found; ingot lost forever

Wednesday, August 1st, 2018

Two men who stole a 17th century Spanish gold ingot from the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West in 2010 were finally found in January and arrested. (Why it took the feds more than seven years to find two monster douchebags filmed by security cameras during the crime remains unexplained.) Richard Johnson and Jarred Goldman were charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and theft of an object of cultural patrimony. The conspiracy charge carries a maximum sentence of five years, the theft ten.

The men have now been convicted and sentenced to jail time. Johnson, who broke into the display case in broad daylight and walked out casually past security with the priceless object in his pocket was sentenced to serve 63 months (five years and three months). Goldman, who acted as a lookout, was sentenced to 40 months (three years and four months). Considering they could each have gotten 15 years, they both got off easy.

Unfortunately whatever time they end up doing will not be in a prison hulk, oubliette, dungeon or Roman silver mines even though retributive justice cries out for a prolonged period experiencing history’s most foul forms of punishment because of what they did to that ingot. They did not sell it to an unscrupulous collector. Like so many of these two-bit clowns, they wouldn’t have the first idea of how to unload so famous and specific an artifact. They didn’t have the 9th grade level of chemistry knowledge to melt it down and sell the gold for its market value. Instead they cut it up into small pieces and sold snippets in Las Vegas for pennies on the dollar. Obviously when I wrote that I hoped they wouldn’t just melt it for 70 grand worth of meth, I was way overestimating their abilities. Johnson doesn’t even have the decency to be addicted to meth. He blames a risibly expensive pot habit ($700 a week, really?) for driving him to it. That and childhood abuse at the hand of an uncle.

Those are just excuses thrown like spaghetti against the courtroom wall to see if any of them would stick and get him a lighter sentence. The museum offered a $10,000 reward for the return of the ingot. He didn’t have to destroy an irreplaceable historic artifact for loose change, no matter how refined his taste in weed.

Johnson cooperated with the feds and testified against Goldman at his trial, hence his far too generous sentence. He also provided information that allowed authorities to recover one of the snippets he cut off the ingot. It’s about 1/30th of the whole so it’s not much consolation.

Both men must also pay $570,195 in restitution to the museum for the bar, which the museum valued at over $560,000 at the time of the theft. Martinez said he didn’t expect either convict would be able to come up with much money.

Insurance paid the museum about $100,000 for the bar, which was recovered in 1980 by treasure hunter Mel Fisher and his team from a centuries-old shipwreck off the Florida Keys. […]

“That’s the point of view of insurance companies and jewelers,” museum CEO Melissa Kendrick testified Monday as Johnson’s attorney, Chad Piotrowski, argued the bar was worth the rate of gold and no more in an effort to secure a lesser sentence for his client. “As professionals, we don’t see it that way.”

Kendrick said, “The cultural community doesn’t value a Rembrandt for the cost of canvas and the paint.”

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A riveting look at the Gardner heist via podcast

Friday, July 20th, 2018

Boston’s National Public Radio station WBUR and the Boston Globe have produced a podcast series dubbed Last Seen on the greatest unsolved art crime in history, the theft of 13 masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18th, 1990. The case has bedeviled authorities local and federal for 28 years and is still being actively investigated. The reward money is now up to $10 million, and yet, concrete evidence of any kind remains elusive.

The 10-episode series will look at the events of March 18th, 1990 and follow the track of the investigations, but it won’t be a retelling of what went down. There will be interviews with people who have never been interviewed before, among them the second security guard on duty that night and in-depth examinations of the investigative trail over the decades. The reporters have been given unprecedented access to the Gardner heist materials and many of those materials will be posted online in tandem with the podcasts.

“Our reporters have spoken to key people who have never before publicly talked. They have seen places and documents that no other reporters have seen before. Their work even led federal authorities to conduct a high-stakes excavation in a residential neighborhood in Florida. It all comes together in a provocative look not only at the crime and all the colorful characters around it, but at the investigation that has failed to solve it,” said Jane Bowman, Vice President, Marketing and Strategic Partnerships, The Boston Globe. […]

Who pulled off what the FBI describes as the largest property crime case in U.S. history? Was it a mob associate who ran the TRC Auto Electric repair shop in Dorchester, the Irish Republican Army and Whitey Bulger, two wannabe rock ‘n’ rollers or someone else entirely? Last Seen looks at these and many more suspects as hosts Horan and Rodolico travel from Boston to Philadelphia, Florida, Ireland and Italy investigating motives, scenarios and dead bodies with key players and leading experts on the robbery.

The series begins on September 17th and subsequent episodes will air every Monday. There’s an associated Facebook group you can join to comment on the podcasts and discuss it with other listeners. If you have iTunes (I broke up with it years ago and it was a nasty split), you can subscribe to the podcast here. The podcast will also be available for streaming on WBUR’s Last Seen page and for streaming and download in any other of your favorite podcast purveyors (here it is on Podbay.fm, for example).

Get a tantalizing taste of Last Seen in this excellent trailer. That old-time radio announcer opening and the clips of statements from investigators, witnesses and suspects give it a genuinely haunted crime-thriller vibe.

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