An art thief that tried to sell a number of stolen expressionist masterpieces that including paintings by Marc Chagall and Arshile Gorky at well below their market value, has been sentenced to four years in prison, Associated Press reports. The not-so-clever thief Raul Espinoza, who has prior burglary convictions, pleaded no contest to one count of receiving stolen property.
Espinoza was arrested last October during an FBI operation carried out in a West Los Angeles hotel, where he was trying to sell nine paintings. The case reached court after one of the biggest art thefts in Los Angeles history had been solved by the country’s only full-time art detective. US authorities recovered several works of art reported at the time to be worth worth $10 million (£6.3 million).
The paintings that included works by Diego Rivera and Chagall had finally been recovered after Detective Donald Hrycyk got a tip last Autumn about a man in Europe called “Darko” who was trying to sell the stolen masterpieces, reports the Los Angeles Times. After an undercover operation involving the FBI and the LAPD, the artworks were recovered, and Espinoza, 45, was arrested. Investigators say he was seeking a mere $700,000 (£447,000) in cash for the paintings.
After Espinoza’s arrest, however, the paintings were valued at $23 million, according to a spokesman for the Los Angeles district attorney. The nine paintings, alongside three other works, were stolen back in 2008 from the home of an elderly couple, Anton and Susan Roland, located in the wealthy LA neighborhood of Encino. The art was stolen in broad daylight, while the couple were resting in their bedroom, after their caretaker had gone to the grocery store, leaving a side door unlocked. When she returned less than an hour later, the paintings had been stolen.
The whereabouts of the dozen works of art remained a mystery for some six years. Until in September 2014 until Detective Hrycyk got his tip, and launched the art sting. In December 2014, CNN published a list of the recovered paintings, which included La Femme en Rouge (1926) by Chaim Soutine, Figur mit Hund (1912) by Emil Nolde, Le Paysans (1976) by Marc Chagall, Cubist Still Life (1928-29) by Arshile Gorky, Mexican Peasant (1938) by Diego Rivera, and Blue Bottle (1947) by Hans Hofmann. As three works still remain missing, the FBI is continuing the investigation, and are offering a $25,000 cash reward for information leading to their whereabouts.
Sadly the Rolands never saw their paintings again, having passed away before the paintings were recovered. Anton died shortly after the heist, while Susan passed away in 2014.