Boston art heist solved? Nope, just fraud attempt, prosecutors say

FILE PHOTO: United States Attorney Carmen Ortiz speaks during a press conference at the FBI's Boston Field Office held to appeal to the public for help in returning artwork stolen in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts March 18, 2013. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi/File Photo

BOSTON (Reuters) - A West Virginia man was arrested on Monday and charged with fraudulently claiming he could sell some of the $500 million in artwork stolen from a Boston museum a quarter century ago, even though he had no access to the long-sought masterpieces.

Todd Andrew Desper, 47, of Beckley, West Virginia, was accused of running a scheme in which he offered to sell Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” and Vermeer’s “The Concert,” two of the 13 artworks stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in March 1990 in the largest art heist in U.S. history.

That theft remains one of the highest-profile unsolved crimes in Boston history, and Desper’s attempt to woo buyers in cities including Venice and London led some collectors to tip off the museum’s director about the offer to sell the pair of paintings for $5 million, federal prosecutors said.

Desper, who used the alias “Mordokwan,” was charged with wire fraud and attempted wire fraud, and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

An attorney for Desper did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Gardner heist was carried out by two men dressed in police uniforms who apparently overpowered a night security guard who had buzzed them in.

Due to a quirk in Gardner’s will, the empty frames that held the paintings remain on the walls of the museum she built to house the collection she amassed with her husband.

The art must be displayed the way it was during her lifetime, preventing curators from hanging new works, and leaving a constant reminder of the theft.

Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Peter Cooney