The FBI Tuesday offered a $20,000 reward for the recovery of two stolen N.C. Wyeth paintings, after four other works by the artist were recovered in a Beverly Hills pawnshop.
Last November, after a lengthy investigation, the FBI in Portland, Maine, requested assistance from the FBI in Los Angeles after it obtained information indicating the stolen paintings had been transported to the Southland.
A month later, the FBI’s Los Angeles division recovered four of the six stolen paintings at the Dina Collection, a high-end Beverly Hills pawn shop featured in a reality TV series, authorities said.
The paintings that are still missing — both were stolen in 2013 from a Maine businessman and art collector — are “The Encounter on Freshwater Cliff” and “Go, Dutton, and that Right Speedily” by the American realist painter.
Three people — Oscar Leroy Roberts and Dean Coroniti of North Hollywood, and Lawrence Estrella of Worchester, Massachusetts — were charged in Los Angeles in connection with the investigation.
Roberts, 37, who used the recovered four paintings to secure a loan from the pawn shop, pleaded guilty in February in Los Angeles. The aspiring rapper was sentenced to 28 months in federal prison.
According to federal prosecutors, Roberts brought the paintings, which he knew had been stolen, to Dina Collection owner Yossi Dina, star of “Beverly Hills Pawn” on cable television’s Reelz channel, to have them sold last year for at least $1 million.
When he learned that the FBI was attempting to recover the paintings, Roberts lied to investigators about not knowing the location of the artwork, and then later gave agents a false account of where the paintings might be, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney James A. Bowman.
Roberts then obtained a $100,000 loan from Dina, and urged the pawn shop owner to drop the asking price for the paintings so that they would be sold more quickly, according to a pre-sentencing memorandum prepared by Bowman.
Shortly afterward, Dina alerted police to the transaction, he said.
After the FBI located the paintings and arrested Roberts, he was recorded on a jail telephone telling his fiance to hide the $100,000 and warn another witness not to talk with anyone, according to court papers.
Roberts also told his fiance to lie in connection with their application to buy a home, and say that he was in intensive care.
Coroniti, 55, pleaded guilty to possession of stolen property in March, and is scheduled to be sentenced in October.
Estrella, 65, pleaded guilty to interstate transportation of stolen property in February, and was sentenced in Maine to 92 months in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release.
According to court records, Estrella transported four of the six stolen paintings to California in an effort to sell them.
Law enforcement officers in Los Angeles located his vehicle in the parking lot of a hotel in North Hollywood. Although his room at the hotel was searched and a firearm was located, no paintings were found.
The FBI’s investigation is ongoing and information is being sought from those with knowledge about the whereabouts of the remaining two paintings, which are believed to be somewhere in New England.
“The investigation into the theft has been an active and aggressive effort, with law enforcement following leads and tracking down potential sources of information across the country,” said Vincent B. Lisi, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Boston Division. “I’m optimistic that one day soon the paintings will be returned to their rightful owner and we’ll bring those responsible to justice.”
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $20,000 to anyone who can provide information leading to the recovery of the remaining two Wyeth paintings.
Anyone with information should call the FBI at 1-800-CALLFBI or (800) 225-5324. Tips may also be submitted online at https://tips.fbi.gov.
—City News Service