Monday, May 6, 2013

Easton House Painter Allegedly Stole Picasso, Other Valuable Art

A Picasso etching, Three Graces II, was
involved in the case
 An Easton man was part of a stolen art scheme and money laundering scheme that involved the theft of a Picasso etching and other works from a Kings Point, NY estate, authorities in New York announced today.

The home of Joselito Vega, 42, at 139 Scott St., was searched by New York authorities with the help of Easton police last week, on April 29, but at that time, law enforcement officials were mum on the reasons, citing that the search warrant was sealed.

In a press release today, Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice announced  Vega has been indicted for money laundering and theft of the art works, which authorities say he stole from an estate where he was hired as a house painter.

The Brooklyn DA's offices says Vega sold at least one of the art works, and then enlisted his ex-sister-in-law to cash the check from the sale afterwards in Brooklyn.

Vega was indicted in the Brooklyn case on charges of money laundering, identity theft and third-degree grand larceny. He faces up to 11 years on the Brooklyn case if convicted.

In Nassau County, Vega faces charges of second-degree and third-degree grand larceny. He could face up to five to fifteen years on those charges if convicted.

If Vega is found guilty in both instances, the sentences could be imposed to run consecutively, New York law enforcement officials said.

"The defendant tried to launder the proceeds from the stolen art in Brooklyn. Investigators were able to track down one of the works in an Oakland art gallery. It obviously raises a red flag when you are selling a $50,000 painting for less than $10,000," said Hynes. "I want to commend our investigators for their work, and thank the Nassau County DA’s Office, San Francisco DA’s Office, Easton, PA Police Department and the Oakland, CA Police Department for their efforts in this investigation."

The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office gave the following account of the investigation in a media release:

"In March 2011, Vega, was working for Zimmer Painting Inc. and was assigned to a job at the Schulhof Estate in Kings Point, NY.  The Schulhof Collection is a well-known private art collection of post-war and contemporary European and American art, which includes over 300 works of art. 

"Approximately one year later, when the Schulhof Estate performed an inventory, they realized that three works were missing, including Le Fauteuil II (the Armchair II) by French artist, Jean DuBuffet, estimated to be worth approximately $50,000.  The other paintings  missing were Tuftonboro by Frank Stella and Flower by Norman Lewis.

"In May 2012, the Kings County District Attorney’s Office opened an investigation into the stolen works of art.  The investigation, dubbed Operation To Catch a Thief, found that the Dubuffet painting was given to the Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, California to sell.  It was sold at auction on September 11, 2011 for $8,500 ($7,147.50 after commission fees) to a buyer in Monaco. 

In selling the painting, Vega used the identity of his ex-sister-in-law without her knowledge.  Throughout the interactions between the defendant and the art gallery, he used her name, and had the check for the sale of the work addressed to her and sent to a private mailbox in Bay Ridge.  Further investigation revealed that the private mailbox belonged to Vega under the name Danny Vega.  

"Vega asked his ex-sister-in-law to set up a bank account in her name so that she could cash the check for him, using the excuse that he receives social security benefits, and did not want to lose the benefits if the state found out that he received that sum of money...  

"Detectives from the Kings County District Attorney’s Office set up a sting operation to catch him in the act. 

"On April 29, Vega was hired to do another job at the estate in Kings Point, NY.  Works of art were placed in the home, and hidden cameras were set up.  Vega was caught on video taking three works, including a $10,000 Pablo Picasso etching, "Three Graces II".  He also allegedly stole a Jean Dubuffet work called "Chien" and a Yaacov Agam work called "Presence de Rythmes". 

"Vega was arrested by Detective Investigators from the Kings County District Attorney’s Office.  In total, the six paintings that Vega is alleged to have stolen are worth over $100,000."

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