May 11, 2012 / 3:31 AM / 7 years ago

Reputed mobster's home searched in link to Boston art heist

BOSTON (Reuters) - Authorities spent Thursday searching the home, and digging up the Connecticut yard, of an alleged mobster suspected of having information about a notorious Boston art theft that happened more than twenty years ago.

Dutch painter Rembrandt Van Rijn's "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee," oil on canvas, painted in 1633 was one of many paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston on March 18, 1990 in one of the largest art heists ever.

The search did not unearth the renowned paintings and other artwork nabbed from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990, a source familiar with the activities said. But FBI agents carried away boxes, apparently of possible evidence, from the house

The Gardner Museum heist is the largest unsolved art crime in the world and the biggest U.S. property theft ever, experts say. The pieces are worth an estimated half-billion dollars.

Thieves disguised as Boston police officers entered the museum, located in a mansion modeled on a 15th century Venetian palazzo, at night, handcuffed guards and made off with 13 art works.

The works stolen included three paintings by Rembrandt, including “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” Vermeer’s “The Concert,” five drawings by Edgar Degas and Manet’s “Chez Tortoni.”

Thursday’s search was focused on the Manchester, Connecticut home of Robert Gentile, who federal prosecutors said in March have said may be linked to the theft.

Gentile’s possible connection to the crime became public when a prosecutor said in a federal court in Connecticut that investigators believed the reputed mobster may have information related to the theft.

The prosecutor argued that Gentile, 75, be held without bail pending his federal trial on drug dealing charges.

Gentile’s attorney, A. Ryan McGuigan, said the FBI led Thursday’s search at his client’s home, the Boston Globe said.

The attorney said authorities were using a ground-penetrating radar device as well as dogs in the search, the paper reported.

Some speculate the works may be encased in what used to be an in-ground swimming pool on Gentile’s property.

According to the Globe, the attorney said authorities claimed to be looking for weapons “but we all know what they are actually looking for - and they are looking for the paintings.”

The unsolved theft remains the bane of the FBI’s Art Crime Team. An FBI spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment. Museum officials said they had no comment about the latest developments.

“The museum continues to offer a $5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the artworks in good condition,” museum officials said in a statement. “Anyone with information about the theft, the location of the stolen artworks, and/or the investigation, should contact the Gardner Museum.”

On its website, the museum also urges those in possession of the stolen masterpieces “to conserve them in recommended temperatures and humidity levels.”

Reporting by Ros Krasny and John Shiffman; Editing By Ellen Wulfhorst, Cynthia Johnston and Vicki Allen

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