It was the biggest art heist recorded in United States history.
In the early hours of 18 March 1990 two men dressed as police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Overpowering a night security guard, the thieves stole 13 works of art right off the Museum’s walls.
Twenty-seven years later, two of the stolen works were offered for sale on Craigslist, sparking hope that one of the most notorious crimes in Boston history had finally been solved. That is until federal prosecutors revealed that the vendor was engaged in a multimillion dollar fraud scheme to dupe foreign art buyers.
On Monday (22 May), Todd Desper of Beckley, West Virginia was arrested on wire fraud charges. He is accused of soliciting buyers to purchase two of the stolen artworks, Vermeer’s “The Concert” and Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee”, which he did not actually have access to.
Using the alias “Mordokwan”, Desper attempted to lure buyers in cities including Venice and London using a digital image of one of the paintings that was falsely presented as a close-up photograph. He offered to sell the Rembrandt for US$5 million (£4 million) and the Vermeer for US$50 million (£39 million).
US federal authorities were alerted to the fraud after art collectors notified the director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The Museum’s security director, Anthony Amore, worked with federal investigators to determine whether Desper had actual access to or information about the stolen works.
When they discovered the fraudulent nature of the scheme they arrested him. He will appear in federal court in West Virginia today (23 May) before answering the charges in Boston in June. If convicted, Desper faces up to 20 years’ imprisonment.
Meanwhile, one of the art world’s greatest mysteries remains unsolved.