INTERNATIONAL FOUNDATION FORCULTURAL PROPERTY PROTECTION
Reposted from The National Law Review
New York Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit by the London-based The Mayor Gallery (The Mayor) against the owners of the Pace Gallery based on allegations that defendants “unlawfully declared that thirteen authentic Agnes Martin artworks are fakes, resulting in a loss … of more than $7 million.” The lawsuit asserted that defendants were financially motivated to exclude the works from their catalogue raisonné. In a 16-page decision dismissing the lawsuit, Justice Andrea Masley called the claims “vague” and “speculative.” The Mayor’s initial complaint was dismissed in 2018 as lacking merit; now, the court found that the new complaint did not assert any new facts to avoid dismissal. The Mayor reportedly anticipates appealing the decision.
Artist Cady Noland has filed her third complaint in a lawsuit alleging that a German collector’s unauthorized restoration of her famous Log Cabin Blank With Screw Eyes and Cafe Door (1990) sculpture “amounted to the creation of an unauthorized copy of the original.” Her lawsuit was dismissed twice before, with leave to re-plead, on the grounds that Ms. Noland’s complaint failed to state legally viable copyright infringement claims under the U.S. Copyright Act. Her latest complaint needs to demonstrate that an act of alleged infringement occurred in the United States and not abroad in order to survive another motion to dismiss. The defense has filed yet another motion to dismiss, arguing that the third complaint does not state that the alleged infringement first took place in the United States, but rather in Germany, and as such, Ms. Noland’s challenges in this case are not actionable under the U.S. Copyright Act.
A “part time art handler” who frequents second-hand shops purchased a sketch from a New York Habitat for Humanity thrift store that he believed to be an original by the expressionist Egon Schiele. The sketch now has been authenticated by Jane Kallir, owner of the Galerie St. Etienne, leading expert on Egon Schiele and the author of his catalogue raisonné. Ms. Kallir believes that Schiele sketched the work in 1918, the same year he died. The work appears to be a study for Schiele’s final lithograph, Girl, which also was completed in 1918. The sketch is now for sale and the owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, announced plans to donate a portion of the sale proceeds to Habitat for Humanity.
Timothy Sammons, a British art dealer who operated from offices in London, Zurich and New York, was sentenced to up to 12 years in prison by a New York court after pleading guilty to grand larceny, a scheme to defraud and other counts. It was alleged that Sammons misappropriated the proceeds from sales of art on behalf of his clients and used art that did not belong to him as collateral to obtain personal loans. District Attorney Cyrus Vance noted that besides suffering monetary losses, victims lost “valuable pieces of artwork that had been in their families for generations.” Sammons will reportedly serve his sentence in a New York state prison.
The Baltimore Museum of Art is expanding its campaign to minimize diversity gaps by focusing on women in the coming year. The program, called 2020 Vision, begins in October 2019 by focusing on American Women Modernists such as Georgia O’Keefe. The program also will include a large-scale installation by Mickalene Thomas that will transform the museum’s East Lobby into a “living room.” Other highlights reportedly include “an exploration of Candice Breitz’s socio-political video works, a Joan Mitchell retrospective, an exhibition of beaded works by 19th-century Lakota women and African Art and the Matrilineage, a show documenting the role of maternal power in African art in the 19th through mid-20th centuries.”
Exceeding last year’s record-setting allocation of $198.4 million with this year’s $212 million budget, the New York Department of Cultural Affairs is poised to expand on the success of its CreateNYC Action Plan, a program with the goal of having “a vibrant, diverse, and sustainable cultural sector with access to the arts for all citizens of New York.” This year the program expanded its tenets to include commitments to increase funding to underserved communities, emphasize inclusive practices, solidify its relationship with the city government, address the affordability crisis, and improve public school art education. Since 2017, New York City has distributed more than $1.1 billion in arts and culture financing, more than any other U.S. city.
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Reposted from Arts & Collections
Arguably, the legal issue causing most concern in the art world at the moment is the introduction of the Fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (5 AMLD), which is expected to be implemented into UK law by the 10th January 2020, regardless of Brexit.
The art market is perceived as an easy target for criminals wishing to purchase art as a means of laundering the proceeds of crime. This directive applies to dealers, auction houses and other entities transacting in art and aims to tighten up the current requirements on money laundering and tackle the risks that are commonly associated with the trade. The directive will affect all non-EU buyers purchasing works of art at galleries, fairs and auction houses in the UK and thus requiring the seller to undertake the same level of risk-based due diligence enquiries on purchases, or a series of related purchases, amounting to €10,000 or more, that are currently undertaken by the legal and financial sectors.
Collectors should therefore expect to be asked for up to date photo ID, proof of current address and the source of funds being used for the new year’s transaction.
ID itself, however, is not enough. Sellers are additionally required to do a risk analysis for “high risk” transactions, which will include items of “archaeological, historical, cultural and religious importance”. This includes scrutinising linked transactions, irregularities and suspicious transactions and keeping records evidencing compliance with their money laundering obligations.
Any knowledge or suspicion of money laundering must be reported to the national crime agency (NCA) and sellers cannot “tip-off” their buyer that a report has been made. Sanctions for failure to comply with the regulations are similar to those, in relation to other service-based industries and will include a civil financial penalty or criminal prosecution, that would result in an unlimited fine and/or a prison term of up to two years.
This concept is wholly alien to many who operate in a world where deals can be conducted on the basis of reputation alone and where the trade is renowned for its secrecy, trust and relationship-based transactions. What effect it has on the market remains to be seen.
We live in a time of immense political uncertainty. We have a new Prime Minister, no Withdrawal Agreement, and no assurance that we will leave the EU on 31st October, with or without a deal in place.
The impact in the art market of Brexit, or a no deal Brexit, remains to be seen, but what is clear is that a weak pound has already attracted more foreign collectors to the UK markets and auctions themselves have been strong over the last 12 months.
Regardless, concerns are raised in relation to the restriction of the free movement of people in a no deal scenario and how new bureaucratic requirements will affect artists and employees of art and cultural organisations, who regularly travel to the EU for work including travelling exhibitions and art loans. EU nationals currently residing (and working) in the UK will need to register under the EU Settlement Scheme, which should secure their status in UK law. Travelling to the UK post a no deal Brexit is likely to impose new Visa requirements, documentation at the borders and information on driving and use of mobile phones.
The UK current import tax is only 5%, which is one of the lowest in the EU. If the UK leaves the EU Customs Union, then imports from the EU will be treated in the same way as from outside the EU. The UK government could, in theory, lower the input tax below 5% as there will be nothing to then limit it, which would again attract more collectors to the UK art market.
Collectors would be well advised to allow more time for exporting and importing consignments in the event of a no-deal Brexit and should use experienced carriers and professional agents to deal with the formalities. Export licences are not likely to be affected by a no-deal Brexit, but collectors will be more reliant on shippers to ensure the correct documentation is in place before exporting, as customs clearances or transit documents will be required to take stock into the EU post-Brexit.
All art related businesses or organisations must ensure that they are compliant with the relevant data protection laws, if they send personal data outside the UK or receive date from the EEA. Cross border copyright is also likely to be affected in the event of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. Correspondingly, organisations may need the copyright holder’s consent to export intellectual property-protected goods, that have been legitimately put on the market in the UK to the EU.
In the event of a no deal Brexit, the government have warned that CITES-related animal or plant species (and their parts) will no longer pass through Dover or the Euro tunnel. If Britain leaves the EU without a deal, then new specimens will need a permit to be transported between the UK and the EU and will only be able to travel through designated ports.
The art market has generally reacted with dismay to the Ivory Act 2018, which was expected to come into force later this year. It will introduce a ban on “dealing” in elephant ivory, which includes buying, selling and hiring ivory, offering to arrange or buy, sell or keep it for sale or hire. This extends to exporting it from or importing into the UK for sale or hire.
The small number of exceptions to the ban include objects containing less than 10% of ivory by volume and which were made prior to 1947, the “rarest and most important” objects pre 1918, and musical instruments pre-1975 that contain less than 20% of ivory by volume and portrait miniatures pre-1918.
The prohibition applies to buying, selling or hiring elephant ivory and will not affect private collectors to the extent that they already own, inherit, gift, donate or bequeath items made of or containing ivory. Nonetheless, it will affect collectors wishing to sell ivory items and their collection, which means they will be restricted to selling to a qualifying museum.
Dealers will be most affected by the Act and whilst many agree that the poaching of elephant ivory must be stopped, a blanket restriction on the sale of antique ivory works is not seen a solution. Activists also argue that a ban on elephant ivory only creates demand for other forms of ivory and are campaigning for an extension of the Bill to cover hippos, warthogs and narwhals.
Recently a small group of dealers and collectors have mounted a challenge in the High Court claiming that the Ivory Act should not focus on antiquities, but instead ensure that ivory objects that are traded are in fact antiques rather than modern fakes. The argument that trade in pre-1947 worked ivory is already covered in EU legislation has resonated with the court, and an application for a Judicial Review of the Act has been granted will take place later this year while the UK is still part of the EU. Watch this space.
The issue of repatriation/restitution of art and cultural property is one that has attracted much recent press attention. Historical plunder and request for its return has always been a contentious and emotional subject and one, which has been addressed by the UK government in relation to Nazi-looted art and the issue of holding human remains in publicly funded museums and collections.
Recently there have been calls for return of artefacts of African cultural heritage both in France and the UK, and German museums are also analysing their collections with a view to returning artefacts acquired in the colonial era. The issue of consent to the removal of the artefacts is a key theme. The Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People in 2007 legislates to restore “cultural intellectual religious and spiritual property taken from indigenous people without their free, prior and informed consent and in violation of their laws, traditions and customs”. In short, if items are removed in circumstances of oppression, often following violent conquest, then their refusal to return these items following peaceful request can often be seen as a perpetuation of the relationship of control. Literally adding insult to injury.
Museums in response argue that by acceding to one request for the return of cultural property, they would open the floodgates to others and result in the emptying of museums, which should be a world resource rather than having a nationalistic focus. The uncomfortable truth about the acquisition of these items is a story that should be told by setting out the full provenance and the historical context, so there is a better understanding of the circumstances in which they came to be where they now are. There is no easy answer, but the debate evokes emotional arguments on both sides.
In the meantime, on 12th March 2019 the European Parliament adopted the Regulation on the import of cultural goods which is designed to control the import into the EU member states of certain items of cultural property. The object of this legislation is to protect against illicit trading of cultural goods and the “preservation of humanities cultural heritage”. This supports other measures in place that have been intended to restrict the illicit trade in cultural goods, particularly from the Middle East, and fill in any gaps across the EU. As a regulation, it is already directly applicable in the UK and if the UK leave the EU on the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement, as currently proposed, it will form part of UK law on the date of exit.
It remains to be seen whether the combination of restriction on import of cultural goods, and request for return of cultural goods that have been illicitly or illegally obtained will result in a change in requests for return of items. Museum directors can still rely on statutory restrictions that prohibit the return of items and, until they are allowed to do so, perhaps cultural collaboration between the museum community and the claimants will at least enable the full story to be told and the claimant’s voice heard.
The International Foundation for Cultural Property Protection (IFCPP) is very proud to be celebrating its 20th Anniversary this year. Since its formation as a 501(c)(3) non-profit trade association in Colorado in 1999, the Foundation has grown by leaps and bounds.
As a member-based association that serves the cultural property protection community worldwide, IFCPP provides a host of benefits to industry practitioners in all areas of the field. Member benefits include a variety of valuable resources - professional development, industry-specific training and education, resource-sharing, peer-to-peer networking, job placement, reporting of current events and industry news, professional certification, and much more.
The Foundation offers comprehensive live and online training for security, safety, fire protection, and emergency preparedness, bringing together the world’s leading experts on every conceivable topic that impacts the protection of our institutions. Presenters and instructors are members, partners, professional speakers, leadership gurus, subject matter experts, and those individuals that set industry standards and best practices.
IFCPP’s certification programs now include course work that addresses the concerns of security practitioners at every level, from line officers, to supervisors, to managers, to instructors/trainers. Standardized content includes emergency management, fire protection, business continuity, personnel management, protecting collections, violence prevention and response, legal considerations and restrictions, emergency medical response, staff and visitor screening, evacuations & lockdowns, code of conduct, visitor/guest relations, patrolling, technology, and more. Our new Learning Management System provides online training in Customer Service-Centric Security, Conflict Resolution, Protecting Collections, and Entry Screening. An all-new course on Developing/Enhancing Emergency Operations Plans is currently under development.
The Foundation’s 20th Anniversary Conference will be held this October in our home state of Colorado. The 3-part symposium includes 2 days of pre-conference tours and networking activities at local institutions, 2 days of educational sessions and out-of-the-classroom activities in downtown Denver (the mile-high capitol), and 2 days of workshops in the Rocky Mountain resort town of Vail. Our 20th anniversary gathering will host participants from near and far, including veteran instructors and first-time presenters. Sessions address the protection concerns of all types of cultural institutions, and include library-specific breakout sessions and workshops for institutions with unique and specific needs. Please join us if you can!
IFCPP is also proud to work closely with numerous cultural property associations, strengthening our offerings by partnering with dozens of related organizations. Regular partners include ASIS International and the ASIS Cultural Properties Council; American Alliance of Museums and AAM Museum Association Security Committee; American Library Association; American Association for State & Location History; Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries & Museums; Performing Arts Readiness initiative; and scores of additional state, regional, national, and international cultural organizations.
Lest not forget IFCPP’s ambitious and devoted staff, from frontline to founder – the best we could ever hope for! The programs that our team has developed in the last couple of years, and over the last couple of decades, has greatly expanded daily operations, and allowed us to produce and distribute an impressive array of resources. Kudos to our Founding Director, Program Manager, Lesson Developer, Web Designer, Marketing Consultant, and Strategic Development Consultant!
IFCPP’s success over the last 20 years is directly related to the dedication, enthusiasm, and professionalism of its members, advisors, partners, staff, volunteers, and instructors. We’re very proud of the vast number of relationships that have been established, and grateful to each and every individual and organization that has contributed to the mission of protecting our nations’ treasures. Our sincere appreciation to everyone that has participated, and continues to help make our institutions a safe place to live and work! We are forever in your debt!
Reposted from Homeland Preparedness News
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently identified several challenges related to the nation’s ability to detect and respond to biological events. These hurdles transcend what any one federal department or agency can individually address.
The GAO found four precarious areas, including assessing enterprise-wide threats; situational awareness and data integration; biodetection technologies; and biological laboratory safety and security, according to a study released earlier this summer that discussed GAO reports issued from December 2009 through March 2019 on various biological threats and biodefense efforts.
“Catastrophic biological events have the potential to cause loss of life and sustained damage to the economy, societal stability, and global security,” said Chris P. Currie, director of Homeland Security and Justice at the GAO. He told the U.S. House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on National Security in June that, “Among those biological threats is the unpredictable nature of naturally occurring disease, which could affect human and animal health and agricultural security. Further, while the revolution in biotechnology presents opportunities to advance the life sciences, that same technology in the wrong hands could be used to create crippling biological weapons.”
Catastrophic biological events have the potential to cause loss of life and sustained damage to the economy, societal stability, and global security.
In 2011, the GAO reported that there was no broad, integrated national strategy that encompassed all stakeholders with biodefense responsibilities. The organization called for the development of a national biodefense strategy. Since that time, efforts have been made to coordinate and collaborate across the complex interagency, intergovernmental, and intersectoral biodefense enterprise. Although in October 2017, the GAO found there was no existing mechanism across the federal government that could leverage threat awareness information to direct resources and set budgetary priorities across all agencies for biodefense, the organization said a new biodefense strategy may address this.
In September 2018, the White House released a National Biodefense Strategy. However, because implementation of the strategy is in early stages, it remains to be seen how or to what extent the agencies responsible for implementation will institutionalize mechanisms to help the nation make the best use of limited biodefense resources. The GAO is currently reviewing the strategy and will release a report later this year.
When it comes to situational awareness and data integration, the GAO reported in 2009 and 2015 that the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) National Biosurveillance Integration Center (NBIC) — created to integrate data across the federal government to enhance detection and situational awareness of biological events — has suffered from longstanding challenges related to its clarity of purpose and collaboration with other agencies. DHS implemented GAO’s 2009 recommendation to develop a strategy, but in 2015 GAO found NBIC continued to face complications, such as limited partner participation in the center’s activities.
The GAO reports that DHS has faced biodetection technologies challenges in clearly justifying the need for and establishing the capabilities of the BioWatch program — a system designed to detect an aerosolized biological terrorist attack. In October 2015, the GAO recommended that DHS not pursue upgrades until it takes steps to establish BioWatch’s technical capabilities. While DHS agreed and described a series of tests to establish these capabilities, it continued to pursue upgrades, according to the press release.
Since 2008, the GAO has identified challenges and areas for improvement related to the safety, security, and oversight of high-containment laboratories, which, among other things, conduct research on hazardous pathogens, such as the Ebola virus. The GAO recommended that agencies take actions to avoid safety and security lapses at laboratories, such as better assessing risks, coordinating inspections, and reporting inspection results. Many recommendations have been addressed, but others remain open, such as finalizing guidance on documenting the shipment of dangerous biological material.
“The biological threat landscape is vast and requires a multidisciplinary approach,” Currie said. “The biodefense enterprise is the whole combination of systems at every level of government and the private sector that contribute to protecting the nation and its citizens from potentially catastrophic effects of a biological event.”
Reposted from Stratfor Worldview
For companies and other organizations, sometimes the biggest threat comes from within. An "insider" is generally someone with intimate knowledge of a facility being targeted, as well as natural covers for status and action that an "outsider" would lack. But beyond knowing the ins and outs of a facility and having a reason to be there, an insider can also develop a detailed understanding of internal security programs, policies and procedures to help them plan and conduct their crime.
At Stratfor, we think about the insider threat a lot as our team frequently analyzes incidents pertaining to our clients and subscribers. Insiders can pose an array of threats depending on the nature of the targeted organization. In other words, an elementary school will be more concerned about protecting the physical safety of children than, say, a manufacturing company. Thus, it is important to ensure that security programs protect against the full scope of threats most relevant to specific institutions. But before being able to design the types of comprehensive efforts needed to do so, it's crucial to first have a good grasp of what the actual insider threat is.
Anyone who has an understanding of the inner workings of a certain organization can feasibly cause harm to an organization, whether it's intentional, through error or by negligence. Current employees can become malicious as a result of some real or perceived grievance, or after being recruited by an external threat actor. An engineer who worked at Apple's autonomous vehicle program, for example, leveraged his detailed knowledge of the company's new security procedures to share proprietary information with a Chinese competitor. Following a previous security breach, Apple had made it impossible to download sensitive files to a thumb drive. But to defeat this new restriction, the employee simply used his phone to take photos of documents on his computer screen.
Other insiders can become threats upon or after losing their job, as evidenced by the Virginia Beach shooter, or the two former CIA officers who were recently convicted for spying on China's behalf. The recent Capital One hack — in which an ex-Amazon employee gained access to more than 100 million credit card applications — shows how even former employees of a business partner can still cause significant harm by utilizing the unique knowledge gained while working with another organization. Contractors (like Edward Snowden) and service providers (like members of a janitorial staff) also pose a risk.
Some insiders can even seek out employment at a targeted organization with the sole intent of becoming a mole to cause some sort of harm. There are some very good screening and vetting tools available to protect against hiring such applicants. But employees and their circumstances change over time. Mental illness, debt, traumatic life experiences and addiction can have a dramatic effect on a person's behavior and character. Thus, vetting must not be viewed as something done only when a person is hired, but rather as an ongoing process.
Many organizations also focus their insider threat programs on a narrow area, such as workplace violence or industrial espionage and protecting intellectual property. However, a malicious insider can pose a number of other threats that must be guarded against. A growing number of information technology companies, for example, are developing artificial intelligence tools to help do just that. These programs are often designed to monitor the information that employees access as well as what they're doing with it, to make note of any anomalous behavior. But such programs are focused only on certain risks like intellectual property theft, and thus do not help guard against workplace violence incidents or the many other non-cyber threats that insiders pose.
Chief among these, obviously, is the threat of physical harm. This includes workplace violence (such as shootings or bombings) but can also include things like sexual assault — especially at places in which children can be victimized, such as schools, youth sports organizations and houses of worship. Insiders can also damage facilities, business operations and assets (such as computer systems), and can steal items of value (such as data and intellectual property) as well — whether through diversion, fraud, embezzlement or outright theft.
Thus, in developing a program to effectively monitor and counter insider threats, organizational leadership must first clearly identify the most critical assets to protect. Hopefully, all organizations have a primary focus on safeguarding human life. But after that, priorities will vary depending on the type of institution or business. Compared with a tech company, for example, a school or a house of worship would prioritize safeguarding kids (although child safety is becoming increasingly important in the business world, as more companies offer on-site daycare) over defending against intellectual property theft.
The wide array of potential threats is why insider threat programs must also be cross-functional and include not just information systems and security personnel, but also protective intelligence, human resources and corporate legal. Because while insiders do have some significant advantages over outside attackers by understanding the inner workings of an organization, they also have a big disadvantage in that their frequent contact with colleagues provides many opportunities to be observed (and caught) as they progress through their attack cycle. In the Apple case, for instance, a co-worker spotted the suspect taking photos of his computer screen and reported his behavior.
With this in mind, the workforce-at-large is generally going to have far more contact with a threat actor than will corporate security, human resources or, arguably, supervisors. This is why it's critical that all employees be educated not only on the types of behaviors that threat actors can employ but also be clearly instructed on who to report any suspicious behavior to while being encouraged and empowered to do so. Thus, an effective insider threat program will also contain a training component to educate an organization's entire workforce — from the receptionist to the CEO. Open and ongoing communication between whoever's in charge of combating the insider threat and the rest of the organization is also crucial and must function both ways.
Reposted from GQ
Stéphane Breitwieser robbed nearly 200 museums, amassed a collection of treasures worth more than $1.4 billion, and became perhaps the most prolific art thief in history. And as he reveals to GQ’s Michael Finkel, how Breitwieser managed to do all this is every bit as surprising as why.
“Don't worry about parking the car,” says the art thief. “Anywhere near the museum is fine.” When it comes to stealing from museums, Stéphane Breitwieser is virtually peerless. He is one of the most prolific and successful art thieves who have ever lived. Done right, his technique—daytime, no violence, performed like a magic trick, sometimes with guards in the room—never involves a dash to a getaway car. And done wrong, a parking spot is the least of his worries.
Just make sure to get there at lunchtime, Breitwieser stresses, when the visitors thin and the security staff rotates shorthanded to eat. Dress sharply, shoes to shirt, topped by a jacket that's tailored a little too roomy, with a Swiss Army knife stashed in a pocket.
Be friendly at the front desk. Buy your ticket, say hello. Once inside, Breitwieser adds, it's essential to focus. Note the flow of visitor traffic and memorize the exits. Count the guards. Are they sitting or patrolling? Check for security cameras and see if each has a wire—sometimes they're fake.
The museum is the former home of Peter Paul Rubens, the great Flemish painter of the 1600s. Breitwieser isn't interested in stealing a Rubens; his paintings tend to be extremely large or too overtly religious for Breitwieser's taste. What sets Breitwieser apart from nearly every other art thief—it's the trait, he believes, that has facilitated his prowess—is that he will steal only pieces that stir him emotionally. And he insists that he never sells any. Stealing art for money, he says, is stupid. Money can be made with far less risk. But stealing for love, Breitwieser knows, is ecstatic.
And this piece, right in front of him, is a marvel. He had discovered it during a visit to the museum two weeks previous. He wasn't able to take it then, but its image blazed in his mind every time he sought sleep. This is why he's returned; this has happened before. There will be no good rest until the object is his.
The ivory sculpture is sealed beneath a plexiglass dome fastened to a thick base, resting on an antique dresser. Breitwieser's first objective is to remove the two screws that connect the dome and the base. There's no camera here, and only one guard is in motion, poking her head in every few minutes.
The tourists, as usual, are the problem—too many of them, lingering. The room is filled with items Rubens had amassed during his lifetime, including marble busts of Roman philosophers, a terra-cotta sculpture of Hercules, and a scattering of 17th-century oil paintings.
Patience is needed, but a moment soon comes when it's just Kleinklaus and Breitwieser alone, and in an instant he unfolds the screwdriver from the Swiss Army knife and sets upon the plexiglass dome. Breitwieser is shorter than average and tousle-haired, with piercing blue eyes that, for all his stealth, are often animate with expression. He is lithe and coordinated, and uses athleticism and theater in his work. Maybe five seconds pass before Kleinklaus coughs and he vaults away from the carving, reverting to casual-art-gazing mode.
It's a start. He has turned the first screw twice around. Each job is different; improvisation is crucial—rigid plans do not work during daytime thefts, when there are variables too numerous to preordain. During his previous trip to the museum, he had studied how the Adam and Eve was protected and had also spotted a convenient door, reserved for guards, that opened into the central courtyard and did not appear to have an alarm.
Over the course of ten minutes, progressing fitfully, Breitwieser removes the first screw and pockets it. He does not wear gloves, trading fingerprints for dexterity. The second screw takes equally as long.
Now he's set. The security guard has already appeared three times, and at each check-in Breitwieser and Kleinklaus had stationed themselves in different spots. Still, the time elapsed in this room has reached his acceptable limit. There's a group of visitors present, all using audio guides and studying a painting, and Breitwieser judges them appropriately distracted.
He nods to his girlfriend, who slips out of the room, then lifts the plexiglass dome and sets it carefully aside. He grasps the ivory and pushes it into the waistband of his pants, at the small of his back, adjusting his roomy jacket so the carving is covered. There's a bit of a lump, but you'd have to be exceptionally observant to notice.
Then he strides off, moving with calculation but no obvious haste. He knows that the theft will swiftly be spotted. He'd left the plexiglass bell to the side—no need to waste precious seconds replacing it—and the guard will surely initiate an emergency response. Though not, he's betting, quickly enough.
From the room with the ivory, the museum layout encourages visitors to ascend to the second floor, but Breitwieser pushes through the door he'd seen on his earlier trip, crosses the courtyard toward the main entrance, and walks past the front desk onto the streets of Antwerp. Kleinklaus rejoins him before they reach the car, a little Opel Tigra, and Breitwieser sets the ivory in the trunk and they drive slowly away, pausing at traffic lights on the route out of town.
The road trip ends at a modest steep-roofed house built amid the sprawl of Mulhouse, an industrial city in eastern France. The ivory might be worth a million dollars, but Breitwieser is broke. He does not have a steady job—when he is employed, it's often as a waiter. His girlfriend works in a hospital as a nurse's aide, and the couple live in his mother's house. Their private space is on the top floor, an attic bedroom and small living area that Breitwieser always keeps locked.
They open the door now, cradling the ivory, and a wave of swirling colors seems to break over their heads as they step inside their fantasy world. The walls are lined with Renaissance paintings—portraits, landscapes, still lifes, allegories. There's a bustling peasant scene by Dutch master Adriaen van Ostade, an idyllic pastoral by French luminary François Boucher, an open-winged bat by German genius Albrecht Dürer. A resplendent 16th-century wedding portrait, the bride's dress threaded with pearls, by Lucas Cranach the Younger, may be worth more than all the houses on Breitwieser's block put together, times two.
In the center of the bedroom sits a grandiose canopied four-poster bed, draped with gold velour and red satin, surrounded by furniture stacked with riches. Silver goblets, silver platters, silver vases, silver bowls. A gold snuffbox once owned by Napoleon. A prayer book, lavishly illuminated, from the 1400s. Ornate battle weapons and rare musical instruments. Bronze miniatures and gilded teacups. Masterworks in enamel and marble and copper and brass. The hideaway shimmers with stolen treasure. “My Ali Baba's cave,” Breitwieser calls it.
Entering this place, every time, dizzies him with joy. He describes it as a sort of aesthetic rapture. Breitwieser sprawls on the bed, examining his new showpiece. The Adam and Eve ivory, after a four-century journey to arrive in his lair, appears more stunning than ever. It goes on the corner table, the first thing he sees when he opens his eyes.
During the week, while his girlfriend is working, he visits his local libraries. He learns everything he can about the ivory, the artist, his masters, his students. He takes detailed notes. He does this with nearly all his pieces—he gets attached to them. Back home, he meticulously cleans the carving, with soapy water and lemon, his thumb passing over the sculpture's every nubbin and ridge.
But this is not enough. His love for the ivory doesn't fade, that's not fair to say—he just has room in his heart for a little more love. So he consults his art magazines and auction catalogs. The Zurich art fair is about to begin. He plots a route into Switzerland, avoiding tolls to save money, and early the next Saturday morning they're back on the road.
All his life, inanimate objects have had the power to seduce him. “I get smitten,” Breitwieser says. Before artwork, it was stamps and coins and old postcards, which he'd purchased with pocket money. Later it was medieval pottery fragments he'd find near archaeological sites, free for the taking.
When he covets an object, says Breitwieser, he feels the emotional wallop of a coup de coeur—literally, a blow to the heart. There are just things that make him swoon. “Looking at something beautiful,” he explains, “I can't help but weep. There are people who do not understand this, but I can cry for objects.”
His interactions with the world of the living were far less fulfilling. He never really understood his peers, or almost anyone else for that matter. Popular pastimes, like sports and video games, baffled him. He's never had any interest in drinking or drugs. He could happily spend all day alone at a museum—his parents often dropped him off—or touring archaeological sites, of which there are dozens in the area where he grew up, but around others he was sometimes hotheaded and temperamental.
His first museum heist came shortly after a family crisis. When he was 22 years old, still living at home, his parents' marriage ended explosively. His father left and took his possessions with him, and Breitwieser and his mother tumbled down the social ladder, re-settling in a smaller place, the antiques replaced by Ikea.
Cushioning the trauma was a woman Breitwieser met through an acquaintance, a fellow archeology buff. Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus was the same age as Breitwieser, and similarly introverted, with a kindred sense of curiosity and adventure. She had a sly smile and an irresistible pixie cut. They shared a passion for museums, thrilled to be immersed in beauty. Breitwieser finally experienced a coup de coeur for an actual person. “I loved her right away,” he says. Soon after Breitwieser's father departed, Kleinklaus moved in.
A few months later, the couple were visiting a museum in the French village of Thann when Breitwieser spotted an antique pistol. His first thought, he recalls, was that he should already own something like this. Breitwieser's father had collected old weapons but had taken them when he'd left the family, not bothering to leave a single piece for his son. The firearm, exhibited in a glass case on the museum's second floor, was hand-carved around 1730. It was far nicer than anything his father had owned.
He felt an urge to possess it. The museum was small, no security guard or alarm system, just a volunteer at the entrance booth. The display case itself, Breitwieser noted, was partially open. He was wearing a backpack and could easily hide the pistol in there.
One must resist temptation, he knew. It even says so in the Bible, not that he was particularly religious. What our heart really wants, we must often deny. Maybe this is why so many people seem conflicted and miserable—we are taught to be at constant war with ourselves. As if that were a virtue.
What would happen, he wondered, if he did not resist temptation? If, instead, he fed temptation and freed himself from society's repressive restraints? He had no desire to physically harm anyone or so much as cause fright. He contemplated the flintlock pistol and whispered a few of these thoughts to his girlfriend.
Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus has never spoken to the media about her relationship with Breitwieser and any possible role in the crimes, and neither has Breitwieser's mother, Mireille Stengel. Though there exist supporting documents and reported accounts, much of this story is based primarily on interviews with Breitwieser. While he was in the museum, in front of the pistol, Kleinklaus's response, the way Breitwieser remembers it, made him believe that they were destined to be together.
“Go ahead,” she said. “Take it.” So he did.
From that moment on, he catered to his impulses in an unimaginable way. His only goal was to obey temptation. By the time he pilfers the Adam and Eve ivory, three years after stealing the pistol, he's amassed some 100 objects, all on display in his hideout. He is ecstatic beyond measure, cosseted like a king. He feels as though he and his girlfriend have discovered the meaning of life.
A curious thing about temptation, at least in Breitwieser's case, is that it never seems to abate. If anything, the more he feeds it, the hungrier it gets. The weekend after the ivory theft in Belgium, Breitwieser and Kleinklaus drive through the snow-streaked Alps to the Zurich art fair. Behind a dealer's back, quick as a cat, he steals a spectacular goblet, filigreed with silver and gold, from the 16th century.
Then they head to Holland for another fair, and at one booth, while the vendor is eating lunch and not keeping careful watch, Breitwieser takes a brilliant rendering of a lake bobbing with swans, dated 1620. At another booth, again with the dealer present, he removes a 17th-century seascape painted on copper.
A few weeks later, it's back to Belgium, to a village museum with a single security guard, where he takes a valuable still life, butterflies flitting around a bouquet of tulips, by Flemish master Jan van Kessel the Elder. This is followed by a trip to a Paris auction, where, at the pre-sale show, he steals a painting from the school of Pieter Brueghel the Elder and Pieter Brueghel the Younger, two polestars of Renaissance art.
Once again he returns to Belgium—a country whose museums, says Breitwieser, “attract me like a lover”—and filches a vivid tableau of a rural market, then over to Holland to snatch a droll 17th-century watercolor of house cats chasing hedgehogs, followed by a journey to the northern French city of Lille for another Renaissance oil work, and finally, for good measure, one more raid in Belgium.
All of this in a matter of months. These paintings alone represent a haul worth millions of dollars. And it's not just paintings—he also steals a gold-plated hourglass, a stained-glass windowpane, an iron alms box, a copper collection plate, a brass hunting bugle, a cavalry saber, a couple of daggers, a gilded ostrich egg, a wooden altarpiece, and a half-dozen pocket watches. Everything is crammed into the hideout, filling the walls top to bottom, overflowing the end tables, displayed in his closet's shoe rack, leaning on chairs, stuffed under the bed.
The collection is not random. Virtually everything he steals was made before the Industrial Revolution, in an age when items were all still formed by hand; no machines stamped out parts. Everything finely crafted in this way, Breitwieser believes, from medical instruments to kitchenware, is its own little work of art, the hand of the master visible in each chisel mark and burr. This, to Breitwieser, was the height of human civilization.
Continue Reading from Original Post
Reposted from The New York Times
Officials of the Indian government and the Metropolitan Museum of Art are discussing whether a number of prized antiquities that the museum began acquiring three decades ago were the product of looting by Subhash Kapoor, a Manhattan art dealer accused of being one of the world’s most prolific smugglers of stolen artifacts.
Since 1990, the Met has acquired some 15 antiquities that passed through Mr. Kapoor’s hands during a period in which, the authorities say, his smuggling ring was active and he routinely sold or donated rare and costly artifacts to at least a dozen American museums.
The discussions are part of a major push by India to recover some of the tens of thousands of sacred idols and ancient relics now known to have been plundered in the last half-century by a variety of smugglers and temple raiders.
Last month, New York officials charged Mr. Kapoor with 86 felony counts and accused him of trafficking in $145 million in antiquities dating back as far as 1974.
The first Kapoor antiquities to arrive at the Met were a set of first-century terra-cotta rattles in the shape of Yaksha, a nature spirit. The last Kapoor-related piece to enter the collection, an 11th-century celestial dancer carved from sandstone, came in 2015.
Each of the 15 objects was either gifted or sold to the Met by Mr. Kapoor or obtained from collectors who had acquired them from the art dealer or his New York gallery. Most of them arrived at a time when the gallery, Art of the Past on Madison Avenue, was a respected anchor in its field and before Mr. Kapoor’s 2011 arrest in Germany and 2012 transfer to India, where he is still awaiting trial on smuggling charges.
None of the provenances for the Met’s items, as shown on the museum’s website, lists an owner who predates Mr. Kapoor.
Several years ago, when the authorities first characterized the scope of the smuggling they attributed to Mr. Kapoor, the Met said it did not plan a special review of its collection because it said it did not think the items it held were the focus of suspicion. More recently, museum officials reversed that position and began a more thorough review of the antiquities that track back to Mr. Kapoor.
“As we have since learned of the multiple law enforcement actions, and in the spirit of our enhanced procedures over recent years, we are now seeking to identify additional provenance information,” the museum said in a statement.
The Met declined to discuss the status of the talks with India or to characterize whether the museum now believes that some of the items were looted.
Indian officials applauded the Met’s review.
“It is a good initiative,” D.M. Dimri, a spokesman for the Archaeological Survey of India, said of the Met’s effort. His agency is responsible for safeguarding India’s most illustrious objects and monuments. “We hope other museums will follow suit too and verify the source of their acquisitions in case they have our stolen antiquities.”
The Asia Society in Manhattan is studying the provenance of at least one item — a 12th-century copper-alloy statue of the deity Shiva dancing in the center of a spoked circle — that Indian officials believe was looted. It does not have a lineage that tracks to Mr. Kapoor.
“In the past, the institution has supported the return of objects that were found to have been acquired illegally,” Tom Nagorski, the society’s executive vice president, said. “In this particular case, we are taking active steps to investigate and determine the validity of the claim.”
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art has recently deaccessioned an Indian artifact with a sketchy provenance, an eighth-century gilt-copper statuette of Buddha on a throne, and “begun discussions with the authorities related to its disposition,” said a spokeswoman, Erin Yokomizo.
Though neither item is connected to Mr. Kapoor, Indian officials say they help illuminate the extent of the plunder their nation has experienced since independence from Britain in 1947. The United Nations organization UNESCO has calculated that more than 50,000 idols, icons, artifacts and antiquities have been stolen from India, but officials agree there is no exact count and may never be.
Indian officials said their conversations with the Met about the Kapoor relics began last year. The Met’s curator for South and Southeast Asian art, John Guy, had visited the country last August, returning two antiquities that the Met had on its own determined were likely looted from the country.
Neither of those items, an eighth-century sculpture of the Goddess Durga slaying a buffalo-headed demon, and a third-century limestone bust of a man’s head, appeared to have any connection with Mr. Kapoor. The Met said its readiness to return the two pieces demonstrated an increased level of diligence in examining the source of antiquities.
Mr. Guy returned to India last November, looking to borrow objects to be shown as part of the museum’s 150th anniversary exhibitions next year.
The Met has for decades had a policy requiring that artifacts entering the collection be accompanied by export and import licenses indicating they were legally removed from their countries of origin. In the case of Mr. Kapoor, the authorities have said he sometimes provided counterfeit licenses in an effort to dupe museum curators and other buyers.
The Met declined to say whether it had received any licenses when the Kapoor items were acquired. In its statement, it said “as each gift entered the collection it underwent the review protocol of that time — which is to acknowledge that we and the entire field have heightened procedures in recent years.”
Since that time the Met and other American museums have adopted far more painstaking requirements. In part, those strictures read: “The Museum will thoroughly research the ownership history of any archaeological materials or ancient art prior to its acquisition, including making a rigorous effort to obtain accurate written documentation with respect to its history, including import and export documents.”
In the years since Mr. Kapoor was arrested, at least 10 American museums, including the Toledo Museum of Art, the Honolulu Museum of Art, and the Samuel P. Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida, have deaccessioned dozens of items with provenances that stretched back to him.
Key to any repatriation claim by India is establishing evidence of where an artifact might have been taken and when. In 1972, India ratified an international treaty barring the export or transfer of cultural property that lacked explicit government approval and formal documentation.
Homeland Security investigators and officials with the Manhattan district attorney’s office have spearheaded the domestic investigation into Mr. Kapoor, seizing more than 2,500 items from warehouses he controlled. Indian officials have begun to sort through these stockpiles to determine which items they can definitively claim and to weed out fakes. As a result, the vast majority of the relinquished items have yet to return to India, and the repatriations have been piecemeal.
Since 2016, when Attorney General Loretta Lynch handed over 200 stolen cultural artifacts during a ceremony at the Indian Embassy in Washington, about 40 have been returned to India, but none yet to the temples and shrines where some of them originated.
Reposted from Atlas Obscura
Mitch Yockelson knows what’s missing by heart. There’s an arsenal of diamond-encrusted daggers, swords, and scabbards gifted to Harry Truman by a Saudi prince and the Iranian shah—all stolen from his presidential library in 1978. There’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s official White House portrait. It went missing in a move. And there’s a batch of Abraham Lincoln’s telegrams that just up and vanished.
Yockelson, the investigative archivist for the United States’ National Archives, is unlikely to find any of these priceless historical treasures in a fluorescent-lit hall on the Maryland state fairgrounds. The annual Maryland Antique Arms Show brings together hundreds of dealers peddling all types of military antiques and ephemera. There, men toting bayonets for sale peruse table after table of old uniforms, yellowed discharge papers, and bowls of ammunition. Yockelson attends shows like this two or three times a year, in addition to scouring online auctions and following tips, on the hunt for lost Americana that rightfully belongs to the U.S. government.
Yockelson is one-half of the Archival Recovery Program, based in the National Archives and Records Administration’s office in College Park, Maryland. He and analyst Kellie Shipley believe they are the only dedicated team in any museum or cultural institution in the world whose sole purpose is to search for missing and stolen items. This hunt for documents and other objects that belong in the official repository of American history is what brought him to the military antiques show.
Yockelson is making the rounds, as he often does at such events—greeting old acquaintances and flipping through inventory binders—when he gets stopped near a display of old rifles. “Whatchu think you’re gonna find over here?” calls a white-haired man with a heavy drawl, approaching down the aisle.
“Whatever’s in your back pocket,” Yockelson fires back. He’s 56, with graying hair at his temples, a pear-shaped face, and the jacket-and-tie uniform of a career government employee. The man, a buyer named Jan who deals in military documents for private clients, seems eager to dish on old thefts and other dealers. He clearly knows why Yockelson is there.
“You get any of that stuff back that guy stole in the valley?” Jan asks. He’s referring to Howard Harner, who was convicted of stealing more than 100 Civil War–related documents from the National Archives in 2005, and whose case was a landmark in the creation of the Archival Recovery Program that Yockelson leads. Harner served two years in prison, but dozens of items he stole and then sold remain missing.
“We’re still looking,” Yockelson replies, wearily.
“You guys should’ve had him die in prison. Anybody to do what he did … it’s not only criminal, but he screwed so many people.”
“You know, buyer beware,” Yockelson says. “People didn’t ask questions. They took him for his word.”
When Yockelson first started attending these shows nearly a decade ago, he was almost always greeted with cold shoulders and dirty looks. “It’s not up to us to police the hobby for you,” the dealers—Jan included—told him. Some had lost money when stolen pieces they’d bought were reclaimed by the Archives, so many were wary of him snooping around their collections. Most documents, Yockelson muses as Jan wanders off, have been circulating for decades, so industry insiders are confident they’re clean. But when something new and exciting shows up, opportunity curdles into a kind of willful ignorance, and many “turn a blind eye” to its past, he says.
But now, through years of friendly banter and impeccable bona fides—he’s written several books on military history and is considered a foremost expert on World War I in particular—Yockelson has become a familiar presence, tolerated, respected, and even a little feared. His personal outreach is working: At least once a week a dealer calls him with a tip about a suspicious piece. Usually there’s not much to what they tell him, and in his head Yockelson still keeps that list, the one of items he dreams of returning to the National Archives.
Every Sunday night when he was a kid, Yockelson’s parents flipped on the television to watch The F.B.I., a show about fictional special agents solving real-life cases. He dreamed of joining the agency, and his mom brought him to the headquarters, where visitors were allowed to watch agents shoot at the firing range. Later, after he realized that a lot of Federal Bureau of Investigation cases involve white-collar crimes, Yockelson decided to pursue a Ph.D. in military science. He spent a couple summers in a Union Army uniform, regaling visitors to Virginia’s Petersburg National Battlefield with tales from the Civil War’s longest siege. As an intern at Harper’s Ferry, he edited the diary of a Civil War soldier. He came out of school with a doctorate in World War I military history and, in 1988, joined the National Archives as a research archivist. At the time, there was no recovery team.
Eight years later, a man named Harner befriended a Civil War specialist at the Archives, who helped him pursue his interest in Confederate generals who’d also served in the U.S. Army. On the side, Harner had been asking dealers what they were interested in buying—and then returned to the Archives to swipe the contents of those lists, mainly documents signed by military leaders such as George Pickett, Louis Armistead, and others. He was caught when a researcher noticed that a document Harner had once viewed at the National Archives came up for sale on eBay. The case took a long time to wend its way through the legal system, but it was an alarm call, and helped launch the Archival Recovery Team in 2006.
Within a year Yockelson was transferred to the new unit as an investigator. At the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia he learned basic investigation and interrogation techniques. He also learned how to read facial expressions to tell if someone is lying or withholding information. He’d put these skills to use later, when he sat in on interviews with suspects during criminal investigations. His presence, he found, put the certain type of thief who steals from archives at ease. “I’d go with criminal investigators. They’re armed, they have handcuffs, they look a certain part. Then there’s me, nerdy-looking and into history,” Yockelson says. “I would feel more comfortable talking to me. I can relate. I can talk the talk.”
In 2012, a French researcher named Antonin DeHays began visiting the Archives’ College Park research room, a bright space filled with researchers, authors, and historians sifting through the massive repository of U.S. history. On a pin-drop-quiet, window-filled floor, carts of records sit next to square desks, where visitors can examine and photograph historic items and documents, and scribble notes on borrowed paper. The materials DeHays asked for were popular by archival standards: the possessions of American pilots who’d been shot down by the Germans in World War II. In the boxes he was given, there were dog tags, letters from loved ones—even pedigree papers for a dog that waited in England for one airman’s return.
The file was often perused by researchers and historians, and later that year one had returned for a second look. He was confused by what he saw. The dog tags he’d previously photographed were missing.
Yockelson got a call from the research room and hoped that—like in many such cases—it was simply sloppy filing. He went downstairs and assembled a small group of archivists to look around. Not everything in the Archives is fully inventoried, but they were lucky: Both the staff and the U.S. Army agency for missing soldiers had recently been through the material, so Yockelson and his team pulled out spreadsheets and started checking boxes. For eight-hour days over the next few months, Yockelson and the staff tallied 300 missing items, mostly dog tags. They cross-referenced check-out slips and honed a list of people who’d requested the pillaged boxes. Then they set up a stakeout. Before a box went out, the staff would count the items inside, and then count them again after it was returned. On May 12, 2017, DeHays checked out a box for 24 minutes. When he gave it back, 30 dog tags were missing.
David Berry is one of the five federal agents assigned to the National Archives who collaborate with Yockelson on criminal investigations. After enough evidence was acquired, Berry sat DeHays down at a park near his house and showed him a search warrant. DeHays confessed immediately. He seemed exhausted, Berry says. After he was charged, DeHays, his attorney, Yockelson, and a U.S. attorney met. They wanted the whole story, but at that moment, Yockelson’s primary concern was the dog tags and how he was going to get them back. DeHays, who is from Normandy, had married an American woman and settled in Maryland. His plan, he said, was to make enough money to establish a World War II museum in his home region. He was polite, but seemed coached, and rarely elaborated on his answers. Yockelson pressed him on the whereabouts of the dog tags. He claimed he couldn’t say because he’d kept poor records.
Posing as a collector who wanted to downsize, DeHays had sold them on eBay and via word of mouth. More than two dozen buyers snapped up the rare pieces. One bought more than 100, with the intent of returning them to the airmen’s descendants and donating them to a museum, Berry says. Others went to DeHays’s acquaintances and network of collectors. In one instance he traded a dog tag to a private collector for the privilege of sitting in the cockpit of a Spitfire fighter plane.
“When people see something they want to buy they don’t ask too many questions,” says Berry.
In all, he’d stolen and sold nearly 300 dog tags and 136 other items, including pieces of aircraft and the airmen’s identification cards, from the government. Berry and Yockelson set to work. With DeHays’s cooperation (and computer history), the investigators tracked down buyers—some as far as away as Italy—and requested the artifacts’ return. Nearly every item was recovered. Only nine remain missing.
Once they started investigating, archivists discovered that another thief was working at the same time as DeHays. In June 2019, a member of the National Guard named Robert Rumsby was charged with stealing four World War II dog tags from the National Archives in 2015. He’d given two as gifts to the relatives of the dead soldiers’ families, he told reporters, and planned to do the same with the rest. His case goes to trial soon.
To those working it, the DeHays case felt personal—these items weren’t patents or pardons, but relics of young officers killed or taken prisoner. They also can be used to help locate and identify the remains of those still missing. In April 2018, a judge sentenced DeHays to 364 days in jail—just a day shy of mandatory deportation. Yockelson wishes he’d gotten a harsher sentence. “To me it’s as bad as committing capital murder,” he says. On his desk, Berry keeps a photo of Leonard Willette, a Tuskegee Airman who was killed in action over Germany. In the photo, Willette is wearing a set of dog tags DeHays stole decades later. It’s one of the sets he and Yockelson managed to recover.
Dog tags barely scratch the surface of what’s disappeared from the National Archives over the years. Interns, employees, outside researchers, and visitors have collectively stolen thousands of documents and artifacts since the agency was founded in 1934. Mismanagement, misfiling, and honest mistakes have done away with more.
The National Archives holds 10 billion pages of documents; 12 million maps, charts, and architectural and engineering drawings; 25 million photographs and graphics; 24 million aerial photographs; 300,000 reels of motion picture film; 400,000 video and sound recordings; and 133 terabytes of electronic data. Most are only available to view by those who can travel to headquarters in D.C., the facility in Maryland, or the country’s presidential libraries.
The security system, besides locks and metal detectors, is based on trust with a sprinkling of stern librarian oversight. In College Park, for example, researchers must get a special identification card in the lobby and lock up their bags—no notebooks or even puffy vests are allowed. The staff is quiet but omnipresent, whisper-enforcing a complex set of rules about what can be photographed, how to position the files, how many items can be on a table at a time. The feeling of surveillance is parental, and it seems as though any misstep will be spotted and corrected in hushed, direct tones.
Many of the thefts have been inside jobs. There was a time that staffers could leave the office without being checked. Take Leslie Waffen, a 40-year veteran of the National Archives, who walked out with 955 total items, including an original recording of the 1937 Hindenburg airship disaster. Today employees have their bags searched when they leave, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible for them, or visitors, to get material out. “We’re not allowed to strip search people,” says Yockelson. “Someone like DeHays was able to sneak those dog tags in his pocket. Even if he was rattling on the way out, our guards don’t have the authority.”
The visitors—historians and hobbyists alike—almost always follow the rules, are thankful for the access the National Archives provides, and serve as watchdogs. Many are experts on their chosen subjects and have an intimate knowledge of the archival system—so they know right away if something looks amiss. They’re the Archives’ eyes and ears.
In cases of theft, some culprits are in it for the money. But most start with a genuine love of history. Yockelson says that many who steal do so because they have grown obsessed with their own knowledge and sense of stewardship. “They think, either, ‘I can take better care of this,’ or, ‘This belongs to me more than it does anyone else.’” Sometimes their collecting develops into obsessive hoarding. DeHays told Berry that stealing had become like an addiction. “I think by and large they’re ashamed and embarrassed,” says Berry—once they’re caught, at least. “It’s sad because their role is to be caretakers to history, and that must be very hard to live with.”
In their College Park office, Yockelson and the analyst Shipley sift through internet dumps of keyword searches of eBay and auction houses every day. The items they’re looking for often have markings, such as index numbers, to indicate their origin. The researchers don’t expect much outside help. Yockelson gets those tips, but no auction house has ever called to ask about the origins of an item, and no dealer has volunteered to return a suspect item they already possess. Shipley has a saved search for every known missing item. It’s fishing, but sometimes she gets a bite. A few years ago a wealthy collector died and a number of signed presidential pardons he had purchased appeared for sale at an auction house. Likely unbeknownst to him, they’d been stolen from the National Archives. In recent memory, Shipley has turned up Civil War letters, World War II submarine plans, and mugshots from the United States Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas.
The government has the legal authority to confiscate a piece even if they didn’t realize it was missing. “The bottom line is we’ve been victimized and want our stuff back,” says Yockelson. This authority is one reason for the cold welcome Yockelson received when he started visiting military memorabilia shows.
Dealers understand this risk and know that not everything they buy can be guaranteed clean. Some of them certainly want to stay ahead of the game and in the good graces of Yockelson and the government. Bill Panagopulos, who runs Alexander Historical Auctions in Maryland, has helped recover a handful of objects for the National Archives, including a handwritten order from Abraham Lincoln to post a chaplain at a Civil War–era hospital. “It could happen at any time,” Panagopulos says, of the chance something stolen will appear in one of his catalogs. “Some of this stuff has been through five hands since it was stolen 50 to 60 years ago.” Sometimes, before taking a consignment he’s unsure of, Panagopulos calls Yockelson to confirm that the item doesn’t belong to the government.
The objects Yockelson really wants back—those he knows the history of by heart—are persistent phantoms. There’s the bombing target maps for Hiroshima and Nagasaki, used by crew members of the 20th Air Force to guide their mission, which disappeared after being loaned to a public relations officer in the Air Force in the 1960s, probably for a presentation or article. No one noticed they were gone until a staff member went looking for the file 40 years later. Yockelson doesn’t think there’s much chance of finding them. But sometimes those phantoms do reappear.
In 2003, the National Archives was preparing to celebrate the centennial of the Wright Brothers’ first heavier-than-air flight in the dunes of North Carolina, and someone wanted to pull the flying machine patent for display. Records show it had been loaned to the Smithsonian in 1979 and then returned, but it was not where it was supposed to be, and the trail had gone cold. It bothered Yockelson to no end. He thought about it every time he boarded a plane.
After nearly a decade, a staffer offered a novel idea during a cold-case brainstorm. Could the historic patent have been grouped with another patent file in Kansas, where an underground system of former limestone mines holds millions of overflow items? They called the office to check, and an archivist there began to search a 15-foot-high stack of boxes. Soon a call came back to College Park: Inside a manila envelope, mistakenly filed with a different Wright Brothers patent, was what they were looking for. Yockelson was ecstatic. It was by far the most exciting missing item to find its way back to the National Archives. When it arrived in their conservation lab in 2016, he went to look at it. He’d never thought he’d see it—he never even knew exactly what it looked like—and there it was. “Where have you been all my life?” he wondered. In a cave in Kansas, apparently.
Here I just have a few stolen government documents you might be interested in,” jokes a dealer with a New Jersey drawl. He’s presiding over a couple binders of antique papers and ephemera at the front of the Maryland military show. A stand next to him is roasting nuts, so the joke comes with a caramelized perfume.
“Not today,” Yockelson shoots back.
The two get to talking about what’s out there: fake Nazi artifacts circulating on eBay, genuine documents of opaque origin, and the lies dealers concoct to give their wares a good story. There’s little protection for the consumer, or responsibility on the seller. The market that Yockelson is always watching is nearly impossible to police. “I saw you at the Gettysburg show standing next to Cal’s table,” the dealer says. “I saw the expression on his face. Cal looked like he was ready to say, ‘Just cuff me up.’”
But it’s not that easy. A new case or find brings a fresh historical scavenger hunt for proof that the item should be returned to the National Archives. “On each theft we have to start from scratch: Did it come from us? How can we identify that we actually had it?” Yockelson says.
He admits they need to exercise better control over their holdings. Digitization is one solution. Over the next five years, the National Archives plans to digitize 500 million pages of records, on top of the 235 million that are already available electronically. The entire collection of the Barack Obama Presidential Library in Chicago will be digitized when construction is finished in 2021. As a result, no one will be able to abscond with the original pieces of history, but will those digitized files—so easy and accessible—hold the same appeal? A box of documents, touched by their original owners, is personal. And bringing them out to be touched again grants them a second life.
Yockelson looks glum as he imagines boxes of military dog tags, presidential pardons, and yellowing letters gathering dust in storage, even if it ensures their safety and even if they remain available to researchers in another form. “We want people to use our holdings,” he says. “That’s why we exist. Just don’t take the stuff while you’re here.”
Reposted from The New Yorker
Long before the burglar Vjeran Tomic became the talk of Paris, he honed his skills in a graveyard. Père Lachaise, the city’s largest cemetery, is a Gothic maze of tombstones, in the Twentieth Arrondissement, that covers more than a hundred acres. Frédéric Chopin, Marcel Proust, and Oscar Wilde are among those buried there. Tomic recalled that in the nineteen-eighties, when he was an adolescent, the cemetery attracted hippie tourists, who flocked to the grave of Jim Morrison, and also drug dealers and gang members. Tomic was drawn by the tombstones. In one of twenty letters, written in careful cursive French, that he sent me during the past year and a half, he told me, “Observing them gave me the desire to touch them—to climb up to their peaks.” Tomic and his friends turned the cemetery into a parkour playground, leaping from the roof of one mausoleum to the next, daring one another to take ever-bolder risks.
Tomic avoided his family’s apartment, which was a few blocks south of the cemetery, because he had a tense relationship with his parents, both of whom were Bosnian immigrants. He was born in Paris in 1968, but the following year his mother became seriously ill, and his father, a car mechanic, sent Vjeran to live with his grandmother, in the Ottoman town of Mostar, in Bosnia. By the age of six, he told me, he had developed what he calls “a devious tendency,” adding, “I was showing some unhealthy intelligence.” He tormented his cousins by putting thorns in their shoes. They often played along the banks of the Neretva River, and Tomic became adept at scaling Mostar’s stone bridges; on reaching the top, he would leap into the water below.
At the age of ten, Tomic pulled off his first heist. He broke into a library in Mostar, climbing through a window that was nearly ten feet above street level. He stole two books, each of which appeared to be several hundred years old. (The older brother of a friend learned of the theft and returned Tomic’s plunder.) Tomic said of his early criminal adventures, “It was intuitive. Nobody ever taught me anything.”
He returned to Paris when he was eleven, speaking almost no French and barely knowing his parents. He resented them for uprooting him from Bosnia. In his words, his mother and father “lived in the apocalypse,” fighting constantly.
Despite the turmoil at home, Tomic said, he did well in school, and was a fine athlete. As a teen-ager, he developed a keen interest in drawing, and in his spare time he walked, alone, through the streets of Paris. One day, when he was sixteen, he was strolling through the Jardin des Tuileries when he noticed people lining up outside what appeared to be a greenhouse. It was the Musée de l’Orangerie, a structure that was built, in 1852, to shelter orange trees, and which now houses Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. Tomic went inside. The museum is best known for its Monet murals of water lilies, but Tomic was enraptured by Renoir’s glowing renderings of happy childhoods: kids playing with figurines, practicing the piano, snuggling with mothers. As Tomic saw it, Renoir had used his paintbrush to create a “parallel universe”—an enchanted version of the grim Parisian life he had known. “Renoir has a way of seeing life from a magical realm,” Tomic wrote to me. “It’s as if he even came from this place.” It thrilled him to be “within a hand’s reach” of such spellbinding images.
On returning home, Tomic recalled, he told his mother about his transporting experience at the museum, and said that he wanted to paint—“that it was my passion, that other jobs weren’t worth anything, that they were wastes of time.” Fearing his father’s opinion, he entrusted her to “transmit the message” to him. His father soon approached him and declared that painting was a hobby, not a real job. He pressed Tomic to work at his garage, but Tomic resisted, and eventually “thought about fleeing.”
Tomic and his friends had begun hanging out at Père Lachaise, and when they found an abandoned warehouse nearby they began squatting there. Tomic went to school only intermittently, and he and the other boys supported themselves by stealing pieces of glassware from a local factory and then selling them at a flea market by the Porte de Montreuil. They also began climbing the high walls on the periphery of the cemetery, which allowed them to break into adjoining apartment buildings.
In time, Tomic began robbing apartments in more affluent neighborhoods. His climbing skills continued to improve, and by the age of sixteen he could scale the façade of a multistory building with relative ease. In his letters to me, Tomic described his burglaries in oddly mystical terms, suggesting that his actions were compelled by invisible forces. (He used the French word tractent, which means “towed.”) He described canvassing neighborhoods before choosing his target: “I have to be in harmony with certain places, where I feel good. And then, at that moment, I see—like images from a movie—the places where I have walked in the past week, and some places attract me, and something is waiting for me in the end.”
One night, he had a vivid dream in which he stole five paintings from a museum. He took it as a portent. As he wrote to me, “I knew that someday I would do something great.”
Tomic generally worked alone, scaling walls, leaping between rooftops, and picking locks. Once inside an apartment, he looked first for jewelry, because it was valuable and easy to sell. A burglary that took less than two hours often yielded enough cash to support him for six months on the French Riviera. In his letters, he recounted robbing various Parisian luminaries, including the French-Caribbean singer Henri Salvador and the Egyptian royal family. (He boasted to me that he stole “gold buttons” and some of “Lawrence of Arabia’s medals” from the Egyptians.)
Tomic often returned to an apartment many times without taking anything, in order to find the most expensive-looking items. He adopted this strategy when robbing the apartment of the designer Philippe Starck, in 2004. Starck recently told me, “I never knew anything about my burglar, but I’ve always had respect for his style—an admiration for his temerity—and a sort of intimate affection for him after I discovered that he’d been practically living with us in the apartment for a few days, spending his time sawing into my poor, small safety box without even disturbing us. It was very much a Gentleman Burglar situation, Arsène Lupin style.” (Lupin, the quintessential debonair thief, was invented by the French novelist Maurice Leblanc, in 1905.) Starck went on, “The only shadow was that the only thing he stole was my daughter’s jewelry—her only heritage from her deceased mother.”
Tomic’s confidence as a burglar grew to the point that he felt “indestructible and invulnerable.” Once, while fleeing the police across the rooftops of Paris, he took refuge in an empty apartment in a fashionable building. He decided to take whatever jewelry he could find; suddenly, the owner came home. “I saw that he was an old man with a very sexy girl,” Tomic wrote. He hid in a closet in the bathroom adjoining the man’s bedroom. “I couldn’t get out of it without crossing the room,” he recalled. “The couple . . . began making love, and that went on all night!” He waited until they finally fell asleep, then made his escape. “I have taken many risks like this one, and sometimes much worse ones,” Tomic wrote to me. “But I always perform well when faced with these sorts of obstacles.”
Tomic was exaggerating—his impulsiveness sometimes led him to make poor choices. One day, he ran out of gas while driving through the suburbs of Paris, and discovered that he’d left his wallet at home. “I had a toy handgun on me,” he recalled, and so he held up a bakery for two hundred francs. He filled his tank, but a witness at the bakery reported his license-plate number to the police, and he was arrested. He spent a year in jail.
Starck may be excessively romantic in calling Tomic a Gentleman Burglar. Tomic, who is tall and blunt-featured, with close-cropped dark hair, has been convicted of at least a dozen crimes—among them selling drugs, aggravated robbery, theft with violence, issuing a death threat, and illegal possession of a weapon. A friend of Tomic’s described him as “brutal and a little wild.” At the same time, she said, he had a charming range of passions: “He is into aesthetics, classical music, nature, animals, epicurean pleasures—wine, cheese. He is very out there in his style, even his clothing.” (Tomic favors G-Star pants, New Balance sneakers, cashmere ski hats, and Lacoste underwear.) She said that Tomic was “like a poet,” noting that “he talks about the moon.” He had maintained his habit of wandering around Paris on foot, modelling himself on Arthur Rimbaud.
Above all, Tomic loved fine art. His friend told me that he appreciated Matissef or “his joyful and dancing color palette,” Klimt for “his sensuality,” and Renoir for “the sweetness that emerges from his portraits of children.” She observed, “The Impressionist art feeds the poetry that is in him.”
Many of the luxurious apartments that Tomic broke into had valuable paintings, but he tried to resist taking them, knowing that they would be difficult to unload. “To sell them was dangerous, and I didn’t have reliable sources abroad in order to flog them to collectors or receivers,” he told me. Occasionally, though, the allure of the art proved overwhelming, and Tomic took what he found—including, he says, works by Degas and Signac. “A decent amount passed through my home,” he wrote. He hid some pieces in a cellar, “and some stayed with me for a long time, on the wall, and it’s in these cases that I fell in love.”
This might sound like braggadocio, but Tomic did make off with some masterpieces. In the fall of 2000, in an episode that subsequently made the papers in France, he used a crossbow with ropes and carabiners to sneak into an apartment while its occupants were asleep and stole two Renoirs, a Derain, an Utrillo, a Braque, and various other works—a haul worth more than a million euros.
In May, 2010, Tomic was walking near the Seine when he came upon a large Art Deco building. Looking through a window, he noticed a Cubist painting hanging on the wall. Tomic later learned that the building was the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, known as the MAM. But it was the style of the window, rather than the Cubist painting, that caught Tomic’s interest. He glanced up: there were cameras on the roof. Tomic walked up to one of the building’s other windows, which was blocked from the security cameras by a parapet. Studying the window’s metal frame, he became convinced that it was the same type that, years earlier, he had disassembled, screw by screw, in a heist. He took out a pocket knife, chipped away at the paint on the frame, and examined the screws that were embedded in the metal. He could easily break in, he decided. It astounded him that nobody had considered this vulnerability. “This made me realize that luck and my past experience were at a rendezvous,” he wrote. “I even asked myself if I was not in another dimension at that time.”
A few days later, Tomic went to the MAM as a visitor. It occupies the east wing of the Palais de Tokyo, which was built for the International Exposition of 1937. The museum started amassing its collection in 1953, when the city of Paris donated more than five hundred paintings once owned by a man named Maurice Girardin; Janet Flanner, writing in this magazine, later described Girardin as “an eccentric Paris dentist who had little money but such a gift for scenting talent among still unappreciated important artists that he had been able, starting in 1913, to buy their paintings at the low prices he could afford.”
Tomic looked around the galleries with a mixture of pleasure and unease. “Certain paintings can provoke me like an emotional shock,” he told me. A friend of his compared him to a “shaman,” and added, “A work of art emits a vibration, a palpable energy, and Vjeran is able to connect to it.” When I asked Tomic about this assessment, he agreed, observing, “I love to touch antique objects, and I sense a great past—of generations and generations—that I think are a part of the works.” He said that he avoided thinking about art in scholarly terms, and noted, “Sincerely, I have never read a single work about painting or art in my entire life.”
Inside the museum, Tomic noticed that although the motion detectors were meant to flicker from green to red whenever anyone passed by, several of them appeared to be stuck on green. The discovery delighted Tomic, who has described robbery as, ultimately, an act of imagination. He wrote to me, “I sometimes think for a while, then as if by magic—but without the magic wand—I have the formula to overcome an obstacle.”
In the 1962 film “Dr. No,” James Bond, played by Sean Connery, passes through the lair of a wealthy villain and notices a portrait of the Duke of Wellington, by Goya, on the wall. The painting had been stolen, the previous year, from the National Gallery in London. The scene helped to cement a popular misconception that stolen masterpieces are often bought and secretly held by wealthy, reclusive collectors. In fact, this almost never happens. Unlike jewelry, which can be recut, or antiquities, which may never have been photographed, famous paintings are almost impossible to resell—even at ten per cent of their value, a common rate on the black market. Some criminals try to collect ransom for museum paintings based on their insurance value, but that’s a risky proposition, particularly given that many publicly owned works aren’t insured. Charles Hill, a former head of the art-and-antiques squad at New Scotland Yard, told me that most museum thieves nevertheless “go for the big-ticket items,” adding, “It’s foolhardy, it’s stupid, it’s pig-shit ignorant.”
The typical art thief has no idea who will buy his loot. But, by the time Tomic began thinking about robbing the MAM, he had established a steady business relationship with a sponsor: Jean Michel Corvez, a white-haired man in his fifties who owned several businesses in France, including a health-care-data company and a small gallery in the Bastille neighborhood. Tomic told me that he met Corvez in 2004, through another thief. “Our relationship was more than fine, although it wasn’t quite a friendship,” he wrote to me. “We believed in each other, and he wasn’t evil—but I later realized that he was dangerous and that he was unable to predict danger.”
According to Tomic, in the span of several years he sold Corvez roughly ninety thousand euros’ worth of contraband, including jewelry, gold, and a painting by Johan Jongkind, a Dutch seascape artist. Knowing that Tomic frequently broke into rich people’s apartments, Corvez gave him a list of artists favored by his clients, among them Basquiat, Chagall, Klimt, Léger, Modigliani, Monet, Pissarro, and Warhol. Corvez gave Tomic the nickname l’Araignée—the Spider—and urged him to remain in good shape. He often chastised Tomic for eating poorly, Tomic recalled, adding, “Corvez wanted me to work out, so that I could climb without any problem.”
Soon after visiting the MAM, Tomic went to see Corvez at his gallery. Corvez reminded him that he would love to have a Léger, and one of the paintings at the museum was Léger’s “Still Life with Candlestick,” a depiction of a domestic interior, from 1922. When the painting had last been on loan to another museum, it had been insured for four million euros, and its market price was likely much higher than that. Corvez offered Tomic forty thousand dollars. “I hesitated,” Tomic told me. “But my mouth spoke, and then I couldn’t help but act.” He spent the next several days making plans for the robbery.
On May 14, 2010, in the early hours of the morning, Tomic walked up to a window that faced an esplanade where skateboarders congregated during the day. At around 3 a.m., he saw a guard briefly patrol the galleries, then walk off. Tomic was carrying a piece of dark cloth, and he hung it like a curtain on the outside of the window, to give himself cover. Then he got to work on the window. It took him six nights to finish the job. First, he dabbed the window frame with paint-stripping acid, exposing the head of each screw. Then, after applying another solution, to eliminate rust, he removed the screws and filled the holes with brown modelling clay that matched the color of the window frame. It was a painstaking process, and Tomic didn’t rush.
A few hours before dawn on May 20th, Tomic returned to the site, in a hooded sweatshirt, with two suction cups, and silently pulled out the window. There was a lock holding a grate in place; using bolt cutters, he broke the lock. He entered the museum briefly, avoiding the few working motion detectors. Then he left and retreated to the banks of the Seine, where he waited for fifteen minutes, to insure that he hadn’t set off a silent alarm.
When Tomic went back inside, he spotted the Léger painting, took it off the wall, and maneuvered it out of its frame. He now had an object Corvez prized, but, standing in the museum in the dim light and the silence, he began staring at Matisse’s “Pastoral.” A Fauvist canvas from 1905, it depicts three pale nudes resting while a fourth figure, rendered in bronze tones, plays a flute. “I saw a deep, vivid landscape,” he recalled. “And the little devil playing his flute out of nowhere, as if by magic, as if he were the guardian of this environment.” He took it off the wall.
Then he noticed Modigliani’s “Woman with a Fan,” a portrait of the artist’s muse and obsession, Lunia Czechowska. Tomic fixated on the image, which depicted Czechowska in a yellow dress, her eyes a cloudy white. “The woman in the picture was worthy of a living being, ready to dance a tango,” he wrote to me. “It could have almost been reality.” He stole the Modigliani, too.
Hill described Tomic’s state of mind in the gallery as a kind of mania. “The paradox of great paintings is that they are inanimate objects that have lives of their own,” he said. “And they tend to mesmerize those who look at them. For some viewers, they then take leave of their senses.” Tomic, he said, was in some ways little different from “the buyer at a Sotheby’s auction who gets carried away and ends up bidding ten times what he intended to pay.”
Tomic kept moving through the galleries, taking down “Pigeon with Peas,” by Picasso, and “Olive Tree Near l’Estaque,” by Braque. He almost stole a sixth: Modigliani’s “Woman with Blue Eyes.” But, Tomic recalled, “when I went to get it off the wall, it told me, ‘If you take me, you will regret it the rest of your life.’ I will never forget what this ‘Woman with Blue Eyes’ did to me. When I touched it, to take it out of its frame . . . the feeling started instantly—a fear that came over me like an iceberg, a freezing fear that made me run away.”
It took two trips for Tomic to carry the canvases out of the museum. He had parked his Renault a few minutes away, along the Avenue de New York. He sat in the driver’s seat for five minutes. As a professional thief, Tomic knew that it was reckless to linger at a crime scene, but he continued to equivocate about the Modigliani that he hadn’t taken.
Tomic headed back, but within a minute reality set in: the streets of Paris were deserted, and he was quite possibly the only person within blocks of a recently burglarized museum. He fled the scene again, though his regret lingered. “When I drove, the blue-eyed lady was in my head,” Tomic told me.
Tomic had planned to meet with Corvez later that morning, on the fourth level of an underground parking garage in Bastille. He spent much of the intervening hours gazing at the paintings in his car, especially the Matisse. “I had fallen in love,” he recalled to me. When Corvez arrived at the garage, in a rented Porsche Cayenne, and realized that Tomic had not one but five stolen paintings, he was more unnerved than pleased. “He was afraid of me,” Tomic recalled. Nevertheless, Corvez accepted the Léger, as agreed, and also took the Modigliani, on consignment. Tomic didn’t want to part with the three other paintings, and asked Corvez to store them on his behalf, even though he worried about what might happen to the Matisse. He recalled saying to Corvez, “You could get hit by a car—whose door will I knock on to recover my goods?” The mood turned tense. “We were not far from thinking that all could end badly,” Tomic wrote.
By the end of the day, newspapers around the world were reporting on the heist. The stolen works were estimated to be worth more than seventy million dollars, making the theft the biggest of its kind since 1990, when two thieves, disguised as police officers, stole thirteen art works, collectively valued at roughly half a billion dollars, from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, in Boston. (They have yet to be recovered.)
The mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, declared, “I want everything to be done to recover these masterpieces.” France’s élite armed-robbery unit, the Brigade de Répression du Banditisme, launched an investigation and soon found a witness: Goran Radosavuevic, a skateboarder. He told police that, a few days before the robbery, he’d seen a suspicious character on the esplanade outside the museum: a white man, six feet two, weighing about two hundred pounds, with a muscular build, an oval face, and a square jaw. He observed, “I really got the impression that he was at work. He was not there to look at the skaters and seemed really to be observing the side of the wall with the windows of the museum.” Police records noted that the removed window screws had been laid out neatly in a corner of the museum, underlining the “cold-bloodedness” of the operation. The five paintings were among the most important in the museum’s collection, suggesting to investigators that the thief had “a sophisticated knowledge of the works”—or, at least, a good eye.
After the robbery, Tomic went to meet Corvez at the gallery to collect his payment. Tomic was deeply worried, even paranoid, that police officers were following him. “I knew that a great hunt was going to start,” he wrote me. Corvez gave him a shoebox stuffed with forty thousand euros, in small bills. Tomic left and hailed a taxi. He told me that he didn’t dare take the Métro, because he feared the security cameras. As the taxi navigated the twisting streets of Bastille, the radio buzzed with news of the heist. Tomic eventually arrived at the apartment of a woman he trusted. He taped his stash to the underside of a chair. Fearing that he would be discovered at his own apartment, he asked to spend the night.
Tomic initially characterized this woman to me as an “acquaintance,” but in a subsequent letter he explained that she was a sex worker who gave him “free passes” from time to time. She was not his “concubine,” he assured me; they were confidants who helped each other out. The woman, an immigrant, had experienced “problems with other girls” working the same territory and, according to Tomic, had spent time in jail. Tomic had agreed to keep an eye on her as she reclaimed a spot on her old corner, on Avenue Foch. One evening, she brought him home, fed him, and let him stay overnight. It became an occasional ritual.
Tomic, by his own admission, is not suited to intimacy: “I am a thief. I roam in beautiful neighborhoods. I see what I have to do, but I stay out of people’s private lives.” This woman, however, grew close to him, he said, adding, “She asked me to do her favors a few times, like to fix her car, change a tire.” Tomic never fully let his guard down, though. Most of his arrests occurred when someone betrayed him, and Tomic sometimes wondered if she was a police informant.
Six months after the MAM robbery, the police had only a few leads in the case, but they were conducting a separate investigation, based on an anonymous tip about a thief and his fence, and the informant provided Tomic’s name. On October 1, 2010, they eavesdropped on a phone conversation in which Tomic ranted, “The cops! The fucking cops think it was me who did the museum, I swear! . . . They’re assholes, it’s crazy! They can’t understand that the paintings were sold and that they’re pissing me off!”
The police compared a photograph of Tomic with the description given by the skateboarder, and concluded that they had a likely match. On December 7th, they followed Tomic to the Centre Georges Pompidou, which houses one of the largest modern-art museums in Europe, and observed him studying the emergency exits. A day later, they surveilled him as he bought two suction cups, glue, and a pair of construction gloves. In a letter, Tomic told me that he had indeed been intending to rob the Pompidou but had intuited that the authorities were on his trail. “It was definitely a project that would need to wait its turn,” he told me.
On December 10th, detectives phoned Tomic and the call was sent to voice mail. His greeting was astonishingly brazen, as if he were in a manic state. “If you want to buy paintings or works of art, or exceptional jewelry, do not hesitate to contact me,” he said. “Among the many paintings, there are five that are extremely expensive.”
It’s not clear why Tomic wasn’t immediately arrested. Charles Hill told me that he found it hard to contain his frustration at the inaction of the French police, which he attributed to smug complacency—a feeling, common to those investigating art thefts, that the work will ultimately be recovered. (In fact, several experts told me, only about ten per cent of stolen art ever resurfaces.) But Derek Fincham, a professor at South Texas College of Law, who specializes in the illicit trade in cultural property, suggested a potential justification for the delay: the French police might not have wanted to spook Tomic and “inadvertently push the paintings further underground.” Fincham explained, “A painting that is cut from its frame and rolled up is easy to move. It could be put in a bank vault or buried in a field, or even destroyed.” Such fears are warranted. In 2001, when the police arrested Stéphane Breitwieser—a French thief who stole two hundred and thirty-nine works of art from more than a hundred museums and galleries—his mother shredded many of the paintings and ground them up in a garbage disposal.
On the wiretap, Tomic had promised to get revenge on anyone who followed him too closely. He said, “I’m gonna dig up the guns and, on my mother’s head, you’ll see—the first one who comes near me will get a bullet in the head.”
As the months passed, Tomic grew increasingly suspicious of Corvez. He tried calling him, but discovered that his number was no longer in service. One day, they ran into each other at the Gare de Lyon. Corvez looked “totally white” and “freaky,” Tomic recalled, as if he were “going to pass out,” and stalled when Tomic asked him about the status of the paintings. “He gave me no guarantees,” Tomic told me. “It was fishy, fishy, fishy.”
Tomic surreptitiously taped a subsequent conversation with Corvez, in order to have proof of his involvement in the crime. On the recording, Tomic asks him about the Léger, and Corvez tells him that it has already been sold, and that the police investigation “prevents me from sleeping at night.” In fact, as Tomic eventually learned, Corvez still had the Léger. A client had paid him eighty thousand euros for it and taken it home. Two days later, apparently rattled by the media attention surrounding the theft, he returned the painting to Corvez, without asking for his money back.
Corvez did find a buyer for the Modigliani: Yonathan Birn, a thirty-three-year-old watchmaker with an art-history degree from the Sorbonne. Birn had a small shop in the Marais. Several months after the theft, Corvez showed Birn the Modigliani, which he described as “extraordinary” but “of dubious origin.” Birn was delighted by the portrait, and eventually agreed to buy it from Corvez. It is unclear if Birn understood that the Modigliani had been stolen from the MAM, but he handled the painting with great secrecy, persuading an employee at a Crédit du Nord bank to let him place it, off the books, in a safety-deposit vault.
Corvez eventually made arrangements to store the four other paintings at the shop where Birn sold and repaired his watches, which had a sophisticated alarm system. Birn and Corvez hid the canvases behind an armoire.
Reposted from Pinnacol Assurance
When you think of workplace violence, you may envision a disgruntled ex-employee returning to their former office with a gun.
But that’s just one scenario. The full spectrum of workplace violence encompasses four main threats, going beyond current and former employees. Active shooting situations, physical violence, threats, intimidation and harassment all constitute workplace violence.
While workplace violence may happen at any business, it’s not entirely arbitrary. There are factors you can look for and address, though not every company is in jeopardy of experiencing every type of violence. Risk assessment should be specific to your circumstances.
For instance, healthcare has the greatest incidence of violence than any industry, so if you work in a health-related field, you may need to take extra precautions. Similarly, if your company uses cash registers, such as a bank, convenience store or gas station, you face a higher likelihood of getting robbed.
When you recognize what risks you face, you can prepare proactively to prevent greater catastrophes. Here’s a rundown of the four main types of workplace violence and strategies for approaching them that will help your employees stay safe.
1. Violence as a result of crime
Example: A shooting during a bank robbery
Mitigate your risks:
2. Violence by clients or customers
Example: An angry customer threatening to hurt an employee
Mitigate your risks:
3. Violence by a co-worker or former employee
Example: An employee becoming violent after a performance review
Mitigate your risks:
4. Violence by domestic and intimate partners
Example: An abusive boyfriend showing up at work
Mitigate your risks:
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