Art Theft Recovery: From Sting Operations to Trash Cans
Unaware that it was valued at $350,000, the homeowner had given the crystal ball to his maid.
“So, this piece is sitting on her dresser and it's got her boyfriend's baseball cap on it you know. I asked her, I said, ‘Why-why'd you put a baseball cap on it?’ She said, ‘Well because the sun would hit it and it was acting like a magnifying glass and would shoot the rays and create little fires,’" he said.
The FBI believed both pieces were likely stolen by frat boys pulling a prank.
Replacing the Real With a Fake
In the case of the Matisse painting recovered by FBI agents in Miami, thieves had stolen it from the Caracas museum by replacing the original with a forgery. Wittman said that happened quite often, but finding a buyer for such high-profile pieces was difficult for two reasons.
First, it's a huge risk to buy and display a painting that was known to be stolen.
Secondly, even if an original painting is stolen and swapped out with a forgery and museum officials did not realize it, “Who’s going to go out and buy a painting that should be hanging in a museum? People will think you bought the fake. How are you going to prove yours is real?” Wittman said.
Case in point is the Matisse painting. It took nearly a decade to surface, and nobody made any money on it.
So who usually ends up buying high-profile stolen art?
“That’s easy,” Wittman said, “the FBI and other law enforcement.”