Thursday, August 2, 2012

Grand Jury Hands Up Indictment in Matisse FBI Sting

A federal grand jury in the southern district of Florida (Miami) handed up indictments on Tuesday against a pair with alleged ties to the stolen Henri Matisse painting, Odalisque in Red Pants.  The grand jury charged Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo with a three count indictment.

The indictment alleges that on or about December 1, 2011, Guzman met with an undercover  Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent an agent and a confidential informant (CI) of the Federal Bureau of Investigation "to discuss the sale of the Henri Matisse painting 'Odalisque in Red Pants' which had been reported stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas (MACCSII) in Caracas, Venezuela in or around December 2002." Guzman allegedly gave the CI a password four days later to access an email file containing photographs of the artwork.

Talks continued to work out the payment and transfer of the painting, and Lazo allegedly agreed to transport the stolen artwork from Mexico to the United States. A transaction date of July 17, 2012 was set up where both cash and a wire transfer totaling $740,000 would purchase the painting.

Lazo flew from Mexico City to Miami International Airport on July 16 carrying a red tube that contained the Matisse painting.  She then met with the undercover FBI agent and a second one "posing as an art dealer" in order to close the deal.  Arrests followed.

A July 19, 2012 press release issued by the United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and the FBI Miami Field Office reported that the painting is valued at $3 million.

Guzman and Lazo are each charged with conspiring to transport and sell stolen property (18 USC 371), interstate transportation of stolen property (18 USC 2314), and possession of stolen property (18 USC 2315).  They face potential maximum penalties of five years in prison on the conspiracy count, ten years on the transportation count, and another ten years on the possession count.

Prosecutors also filed a criminal forfeiture action under 18 USC 981(a)(1)(C) in order to gain custody of the painting.  Both the criminal and forfeiture cases are docketed at 12-CR-20559.

An indictment is simply a process of bringing persons into the court process.  The defendants in this case are presumed innocent unless the government proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at http://culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Text copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. CONTACT: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com