Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Defendants Plead Guilty in Stolen and Switched Matisse Painting Case

A pair indicted for their role in receiving a stolen Henri Matisse painting will be sentenced following a guilty plea hearing held on October 30.  A federal grand jury in Miami handed up indictments in July against Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo for their involvement with the Odalisque in Red Pants, reported stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art (Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas (MACCSII)) in Venezuela in or around December 2002.

Henri Matisse
The two signed off on proffers that describe their role in the possession, transportation, and sale of the painting.  The proffers state that Marcuello Guzman brokered the sale of the $3+ million painting to undercover FBI agents for a discounted price of $740,000.  Ornelas Lazo later flew from Mexico City to Miami International Airport carrying the Matisse painting in a tube.  The proffers go on to describe the following details of the transfer, switch, and sale of the artwork:

" ... Ornelas and co-conspirator Marcuello met the FBI under cover agents ("UCs") at a Miami Beach restaurant. During the meeting . . . Ornelas explained that she had taken multiple precautions to minimize being stopped by U.S. Customs and to minimize being inspected, such as in the manner of her packing, dressing lightly, and bringing no food into the U.S. Ornelas admitted taking the photographs of the painting that were sent to the UC's. Ornelas advised that she was present for prior inspections when experts inspected the painting and found it to be authentic. Ornelas added that one specialist said the painting was worth $3.7 million. During the meeting, Ornelas indicated that the experts were nervous because they seem to be aware of the painting's history. When one of the UCs asked if the experts were nervous because the painting was stolen, Ornelas replied affirmatively. During the meeting, Ornelas stated that she knew everything in regards to the painting.

"The following day, July 17, 2012, co-conspirator Marcuello, Ornelas, and the UCs met at a Miami Beach hotel to conduct the sales transaction for the stolen Henri Matisse painting. ...

"During the July 17, 2012 transaction, Ornelas advised the UCs that she had researched the history of the stolen painting online when it showed up years ago at her residence in Mexico. Ornelas further indicated that she had had the painting inspectedby experts in Mexico City, but that none had been willing to authenticate the painting in writing given its origins [referring to the painting having been stolen.]  Ornelas stated that employees at the museum in Caracas had done a "switch'' [referring to the replacement of the original painting with an imitation].

"At the conclusion of the July 17, 2012 meeting, the UCs agreed to purchase the painting and followed through with an ostensible attempt to conduct a wire transfer payment to a bank account supplied to the UCs by Ornelas. Ornelas and co-conspirator Marcuello were then arrested and the painting seized."

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at Text copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT: