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Authors: Stephen Kurkjian

Master Thieves

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Master Thieves

The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World's Greatest Art Heist

Stephen Kurkjian

Copyright © 2015 by Stephen Kurkjian.

Published in the United States by PublicAffairs™, a Member of the Perseus Books Group

All rights reserved.

Printed in the United States of America.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For information, address Public­Affairs, 250 West 57th Street, 15th Floor, New York, New York 10107.

PublicAffairs books are available at special discounts for bulk purchases in the U.S. by corporations, institutions, and other organizations. For more information, please contact the Special Markets Department at the Perseus Books Group, 2300 Chestnut Street, Suite 200, Philadelphia, PA 19103, call (800) 810-4145, ext. 5000, or e-mail
[email protected]

On several occasions in this book, I have reconstructed conversations based on the recollections of only one of the people involved.

Book design by Pauline Brown

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Kurkjian, Stephen A.

Master thieves : the Boston gangsters who pulled off the world's greatest art heist / Stephen Kurkjian.

pages cm

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-1-61039-424-6 (e-book) 1. Art thefts—Massachusetts—Boston. 2. Theft from museums—Massachusetts—Boston. 3. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. I. Title.

N8795.3.U6K87 2015



First Edition

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

This book is dedicated to my late parents Anoosh and Rosella Kurkjian, and my aunt Isabelle Gureghian Totovian, who taught me about life's greatest gifts—baseball, good writing, and children

Cast of Characters

Richard Abath.
The night watchman who made the grievous errors of allowing the two men dressed as police officers into the museum and then stepping away from the museum's only panic alarm on a ruse by the two thieves.

Anthony Amore.
Security director for the museum since 2005 who has worked diligently with the FBI and US attorney's office on the Gardner investigation.

Earle Berghman.
Close friend in Maine of the late mobster Robert Guarente, who believed that Guarente had possession of some of the stolen Gardner paintings. After Guarente's death he introduced Guarente's daughter to a Boston lawyer in the hope of working out a deal to facilitate the recovery of the artwork.

James “Whitey” Bulger.
Notorious Boston mobster whose associates contend sought out who was responsible for the Gardner theft to extract tribute from them for having pulled off such a theft on his turf.

Myles Connor Jr.
Legendary Boston art thief who contends that he cased the Gardner for a heist with Robert Donati after the pair pulled off the theft of paintings by Andrew Wyeth and his father, N. C. Wyeth, from the Woolworth Estate in Monmouth, Maine, in May 1974.

Richard DesLauriers.
Head of the FBI's Boston office from 2010 to 2013, who announced on the theft's twenty-third anniversary that his agents had determined who was responsible for the theft but said the public's help was still needed to gain the artwork's recovery.

Richard Devlin.
Soldier in the Rossetti gang of East Boston who became an enforcer for Frank Salemme. Killed in a 1994 shootout with members of the rival gang fighting for control of the Boston underworld. Louis Royce, who had cased the Gardner Museum for robbery, says he told Devlin of the museum's poor security and together they operated a cherrypicker to check the museum's windows one night in 1982, only to find they were locked.

Robert Donati.
Confidante of and driver for Boston mob leader Vincent Ferrara who reportedly told Ferrara that he had pulled off the Gardner robbery to try to gain Ferrara's release from prison. Donati was brutally beaten to death in September 1991, possibly a victim of the Boston gang war raging at the time.

John Durham.
Assistant US attorney who spearheaded the prosecution on minor drug charges against Robert Gentile, the low-level criminal believed to be tied to hiding one or more of the stolen paintings at his home in Manchester, Connecticut.

Vincent “Vinnie” Ferrara.
Co-leader of the renegade Boston mob group that fought Frank Salemme for control of the region's underworld in the 1980s and ‘90s. Ferrara was released from prison in 2005 after serving sixteen years for racketeering when a federal judge found that prosecutors had withheld evidence clearing Ferrara from involvement in the murder of an underling.

Robert Gentile.
Low-level crime associate from Manchester, Connecticut, who was convicted of selling prescription drugs to an undercover federal informant, a case he and his lawyer contend was pursued against him to force cooperation on his knowledge of the
Gardner theft. Most incriminating evidence found in a sweep of his house, backyard, and false-bottomed shed was a list showing what the artwork would bring on the black market. Gentile acknowledges that he worked as a cook and security guard for Robert Guarente and Robert Luisi while they were running a cocaine trafficking ring in late 1990s in Boston, and on several occasions drove Luisi to Philadelphia, where Luisi met with mob leaders.

Lyle Grindle.
Security director of the Gardner Museum at the time of the theft. Knew that the museum lacked several key security components, including a secured control room and a more sophisticated alarm system, but was unable to convince the museum's trustees to raise the funds needed for immediate improvements.

Bernard Grossberg.
Boston lawyer who signed a deal with Robert Guarente's daughter and best friend to share reward money if they could prove they could gain recovery of one or more of the paintings. Paint chips given to him by the daughter and friend turned out to be phony.

Elene Guarente.
Former wife of the mobster Robert Guarente who told the FBI and Anthony Amore in 2010 that her late husband had given one or more of the stolen paintings to Robert Gentile, his longtime friend from Connecticut.

Robert “Bobby” Guarente.
The key swingman in the FBI's account of what happened to the stolen paintings after their theft, and a loyalist to Frank Salemme and his underworld gang. The FBI believes Guarente had given some of the artwork, stolen by associates of the Rossetti gang of East Boston or others associated with Carmello Merlino of Dorchester, to Robert Gentile.

Anne Hawley.
Appointed director of the museum in 1989, she had been on the job for just six months when the theft occurred. Has spurred FBI investigators, public officials, corporate leaders, even the
Vatican to help in recovery efforts. Led the drive to raise more than $100 million to build a new wing, which opened in 2012 adjacent to the museum.

Arnold Hiatt.
Now-emeritus trustee of the Gardner Museum, was instrumental in having Hawley named as director and has worked hard to maintain the search for the stolen artwork as a priority among investigators.

David Houghton.
Small-time hood from Malden, Massachusetts, who allegedly visited Myles Connor in prison in California to say that he and Robert Donati had pulled off the Gardner robbery. Houghton's size, more than three hundred pounds, was far larger than the description of the two thieves, however.

Geoffrey Kelly.
FBI agent in charge of the investigation. Quoted in 2010 as saying there had never been a “concrete sighting” of any of the stolen artwork, but told a Fox TV reporter without providing any details in 2014 that there had been a “confirmed sighting” of one of the paintings.

Martin Leppo.
Legendary criminal lawyer who has represented most defendants whose names have been mentioned as having possible ties to the paintings. Convinced prosecutors to combine federal and state prison sentences on Myles Connor in the 1970s after Connor arranged for the return of a Rembrandt stolen from Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, a deal that stirred belief among criminal types that law enforcement will give legal breaks in exchange for return of stolen art.

Robert Luisi Jr.
Boston mobster who operated a wide-scale cocaine trafficking network in 1998–1999 with Robert Guarente in suburban Boston. Reneged on a deal with federal prosecutors to testify against Philadelphia mob associates and accepted a ten-year prison sentence instead. Is now reportedly in the witness protection program.

Tom Mashberg.
Reporter who was taken to a Brooklyn warehouse in 1997 by low-level hood William Youngworth to be shown a purported Rembrandt seascape. Subsequently authored the sensational
Boston Herald
article “We've Seen It” after the viewing. Investigators later questioned whether the heavily varnished seascape could have been unfurled in the way that Mashberg described and contended what Mashberg had seen was not the actual painting but a replica.

A. Ryan McGuigan.
Hartford criminal defense lawyer who earned Robert Gentile a reduced prison sentence from the one sought by federal prosecutors. Although he has contended that Gentile has no connection to the Gardner paintings, his law firm signed a deal with Gentile to gain 40 percent of any reward money Gentile might receive if he did arrange for the return of any of the stolen works.

Carmello Merlino.
Owner of a Dorchester auto repair garage that served as a center of criminal operations for drug trafficking, fencing stolen material, and plotting to rob an armored car headquarters. Died in prison after the FBI busted up the armored car scheme. Talked much with associates like Robert Guarente and David Turner about arranging the return of the Gardner paintings in the late 1990s. The FBI continues to believe Merlino had a role in the Gardner saga.

Carmen Ortiz.
US attorney for Massachusetts since 2009. Like several of her predecessors, has pledged immunity from prosecution to whoever can facilitate the return of the artwork stolen from the Gardner Museum.

Charles Pappas Jr.
High school chum and criminal partner of David Turner who was shot to death in 1993 after agreeing to testify against Turner in the prosecution related to a Canton, Massachusetts, home invasion. While he snitched on Turner to the state police as being involved in several other crimes, Pappas never alleged that Turner had participated in the Gardner theft, as the FBI believes.

Raymond S. Patriarca.
Head of New England organized crime from 1950 until his death by heart attack in 1984. Ruled with an iron fist, even allegedly ordering that his brother be murdered for failing to detect that federal agents had placed an electronic surveillance device in Patriarca's Providence, Rhode Island, office. His son who succeeded him was unable to bring about peace between the two gangs that fought for control of criminal operations in Boston.

Jurek “Rocky” Rokoszynski.
Hired by Gardner director Anne Hawley in 2005 to assist in the investigation after his success in recovering two Turner masterpieces for the Tate Gallery in London. Spent much of his time on the Gardner payroll making more than $150,000 chasing down what turned out to be a dead end in Florida.

Ralph Rossetti.
The head of an East Boston criminal gang loyal to Frank Salemme, who, according to the FBI, had cased the Gardner Museum for robbery in the early 1980s with master thief Louis Royce.

Stephen “Stevie” Rossetti.
Nephew of Ralph Rossetti who told another associate that he knew the Gardner was vulnerable to being robbed but had passed on the score. Was arrested along with Carmello Merlino and David Turner in 1999 for conspiring to rob an armored car headquarters and is now serving a forty-four-year prison sentence.

Louis Royce.
South Boston native who left his home as a youth and found a warm place to sleep by sneaking into the Gardner Museum before closing time. Turned into one of Boston's most colorful thieves and passed on to associates in the Rossetti gang his deep knowledge of the Gardner facility and the vulnerabilities of the museum's security system.

Frank “Cadillac Frank” Salemme.
Head of a criminal gang in Boston who believed he was entitled to succeed Gennaro (Gerry) Angiulo
and his brothers as head of the Boston underworld, but had to fight a renegade group for that control in the 1980s and ‘90s.

Michael Sullivan.
US attorney for Massachusetts between 2001 and 2008. Stephen “The Rifleman” Flemmi told him that his boss, James “Whitey” Bulger, had tasked him with finding out who had pulled off the Gardner robbery, but that his efforts were in vain.

David A. Turner.
Braintree High School graduate who was introduced to the thug life after his father's death via various mob activities, including alleged cocaine trafficking, by Robert Guarente in the 1980s. Although he was allegedly in Florida at the time of the heist, rumors continue to swirl about his believed involvement. Turner denied his good friend's statement that he was writing a book that would detail his role in the theft and being set up by the FBI to participate in a scheme to rob an armored car headquarters to force him to tell what he knew of the heist.

William Youngworth.
Antiques dealer and low-level member of the Rossetti gang who arranged for
Boston Herald
reporter Tom Mashberg to view what was reported to be the stolen 1633 Rembrandt painting
Storm on the Sea of Galilee
in a Brooklyn warehouse during the early morning hours following a clandestine road trip in August 1997. The FBI and museum officials later rejected that Youngworth had access to the stolen artwork, as he had claimed, when paint chips he had turned over proved to be from another painting of that period but not the famed Rembrandt seascape.

BOOK: Master Thieves
7.97Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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