centerlogobigAAD logo

Art Theft

Defendant Tried to Fraudulently Obtain $5 million for Stolen Artwork That He Did Not Possess Screen Shot 2017 07 01 at 11.25.24

BOSTON – A Beckley, W.Va. man was indicted today by a federal grand jury in Boston in connection with his scheme to sell paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990, on Craigslist.

On May 22, 2017, Todd Andrew Desper, a/k/a “Mordokwan,” 47, was arrested and charged in a criminal complaint. He was released on bond the day after his arrest and remains on pre-trial release. Today, a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging Desper with four counts of wire fraud and attempted wire fraud.

According to court documents, Desper, acting under the pseudonym “Mordokwan,” solicited foreign buyers for both the Storm on the Sea of Galilee and Vermeer’s The Concert on Craigslist in a number of foreign cities including Venice and London. Desper directed interested buyers to create an encrypted email account to communicate with him. Authorities were notified of the foreign Craigslist notices by individuals seeking to assist in the recovery of the artwork, as well as those seeking the multi-million dollar reward offered by the Museum. At the time of the crime, the Museum was offering a $5 million reward. The Museum has since increased that reward to $10 million.

At the direction of federal authorities, the security director for the Gardner Museum engaged in encrypted communications with Desper in an attempt to determine whether Desper had access to the stolen masterpieces. Desper allegedly instructed the security director to send a cashier’s check for $5 million to a location in West Virginia and that Storm on the Sea of Galilee would then be sent in return, concealed behind another painting. It is alleged that the investigation ultimately revealed that Desper had no access to, nor information about, the stolen paintings, but was instead engaged in a multi-million dollar fraud scheme targeting foreign art buyers.

On March 18, 1990, 13 pieces of artwork were stolen from The Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in the early morning hours. According to security guards, two white males dressed in Boston Police uniforms gained entrance to the Gardner Museum by explaining that they were responding to a report of a disturbance within the museum compound. Upon entry, the thieves subdued and secured the guards and went on to commit the largest art theft in history, taking 13 works of art including Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee and Vermeer’s The Concert. The combined value of the art stolen during the Gardner theft is estimated at $500 million, although several of the works are considered priceless within the art community.

The charging statute provides for a sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine up to $250,000. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Acting United States Attorney William D. Weinreb and Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division, made the announcement today. Assistance was provided the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia, the FBI Pittsburgh Field Division, and the Beckley Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney John T. McNeil of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division.

The details contained in the charging documents are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Screen Shot 2017 07 01 at 11.25.24

Screen Shot 2017 07 22 at 00.59.08 

Forgotten in the hubub of the Gardner Heist, is what these paintings actallly look like. Decades later we appear no closer to the recovery of these lost masterpieces, and before amnesia sets in (omerta achieved) and we truly forget what was taken, aside from dollar value cited, these are the works. With the advent of the internet, finally, higher definition photos courtesy of the F.B.I. have arrived.

Realistically, only the Italians make a move (and not get caught), only they have the right word for what we have known since, Omerta, hence our recent Boston mafia headline developments about Cadillac Frank Salleme being pulled from his retirement home in the federal witness protection programme. Seems like a mistake to have given that jerk-off immunity.

As to where old European paintings sell for top price, ask TEFAF, they cite theirs as the biggest Old Masters Show in Europe, so odds are, that everything wound up within a few hundred miles of Maastricht.

Screen Shot 2016 08 10 at 04.08.41

01Vermeer The concertJohannes Vermeer (1632-1675), The Concert, painted circa 1660, 72.5 cm by 64.7 cm (28.5 in × 25.5 in), oil on canvas      

Perhaps the most valuable work of art ever stolen. Worth $200 million plus.

02Rembrandt Christ in the Storm on the Lake of GalileeRembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669), The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, 160 cm by 128 cm (62.99 in × 50.39 in), oil/canvas

Owing to its extremely large size, this was one of the two paintings cut from the frame to make room on an obviously too small get away vehicle.

03A lady and gentleman in black by RembrandtRembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669), A Lady and Gentleman in Black, 1633, 131.6 cm by 109 cm (51.8 in × 43 in), oil/canvas

This work too was cut from its frame, a victim again of its sheer size. Long attributed to Rembrandt, scholars in the Netherlands started to express their doubts when the painting was stolen.

04flink formerRembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn 076Govaert Teuniszoon Flinck (1615–1660), Landscape with Obelisk, 1638, 54.5 cm by 71 cm (21.5 in × 28 in), oil/wood

Rumored to be somewhere in America, wiseguys on the street have called the above, "Scenery wit' a needle".

05Edouard Manet Chez TortoniÉdouard Manet (1832-1883), Chez Tortoni, 1878, 26 cm by 34 cm (10 in × 13 in), Oil on canvas

06degas sortiepesage

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Sortie Pesage, 10 cm by 16 cm, 4 by 6 inches, pencil and watercolor on paper

07degas cortege

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Cortege, 6 inches high (15.6 cm) and 8 inches long (20.6 cm)., pencil and watercolor on paper 

08Degas Three Mounted Jockeys

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Three Mounted Jockeys, 12 inches high by 9.5 inches long (30 cm by 24 cm), mixed media on paper

09Degas Program for an artistic soiree 1Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Program for an artistic soiree 1, charcoal on paper, likely similar size as the next one

10Degas Program for an artistic soiree 2

Edgar Degas (1834-1917), Program for an artistic soiree 2, 10 inches (25 cm) by about 12 inches (31 cm). A second Degas sketch represents a less-finished version of the first.

11Rembrandt Self portrait etching ISGMRembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606-1669), Self Portrait Etching, 1634, 1.75 by 2 in, ink on paper

12Finial robbed from Isabella Stewart Gardner MuseumNapoleonic Eagle finial, which formerly afixed to the pole of a silk Napoleonic flag, circa 1812-1814, gilded bronze piece, 25cm or 10 inches

 13ku vaseKu bronze beaker, Shang Dynasty, China, dates to 1200 B.C. and 1100 B.C., 10 inches (25 cm) tall and weighs 2 pounds, 7 ounces (1.1 kilograms)

 Screen Shot 2016 08 10 at 04.08.41

You may also like to read:

*  "Priceless" Evening at the Frick Collection, Agent Robert Wittman on Art Theft

*  Gardner Heist Perps, Unmasked At Last?

*  Who Did The Gardner Heist & Did The Canary Finally Sing?

*  With Remains Identified, An Old Killer Comes Back Into Focus

*  One of the Gardner Perps Back in Trouble - Now There's a Surprise

*  Bobby DeLuca goes Canary on "Cadillac Frank" Salemme for old Boston rub out


About the Author



AAD REPORTS   Reports, news and opinion from