Art crime expert Anthony Amore entertains Sweetser audience

06Apr16

by MARK SARDELLA

anthony_amore3

For nearly two hours, Anthony Amore entertained the packed audience at The Savings Bank Theater with tales of art theft and the sometimes colorful but often inept characters that perpetrate such crimes. Amore was the opening speaker in the 2016 Sweetser Lecture Series in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

As head of security and chief investigator at the Isabella Stewart Garner Museum in Boston since 2005, one of his primary tasks is handling the ongoing investigation of the infamous 1990 heist in which 13 priceless works of art were stolen from the museum.

Prior to joining the museum, Amore helped rebuild security at Logan Airport after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in his role as an assistant director with the Transportation Security Administration. He is also a former special agent with the Federal Aviation Administration.

stormAmore told the audience how he came to write his first book, Stealing Rembrandts: the untold stories of notorious art heists. He had just been hired as director of Security at the Gardner and was trying to formulate a plan to solve the Gardner thefts and recover the paintings.

I decided to look back a hundred years at every art heist and create a database so I can come up with a really good MO of the truth of art theft,” Amore said. What he found was that art theft is a $6 billion to $8 billion per year illicit industry, third after drugs and guns in terms of trafficking.

Faced with that daunting task, Amore said that he decided that since three of the paintings stolen from the Gardner were Rembrandts he would study everything he could about the 81 thefts in the last century in which Rembrandts were taken.

That research eventually turned into his first book. His latest book is The Art of the Con: the most notorious fakes, frauds and forgeries in the art world.

Amore said that Massachusetts “is the third worst state in terms of art theft. Arguably the three most important art heists in history happened in Massachusetts.

Amore debunked the popular myth that art thieves are refined gentlemen of taste. In truth, he said, they are nothing more than common thieves who would steal anything if they thought they could get away with it.

He told the story of Florian Monday, who was such a prolific thief that he came to be called “Al” Monday, after the Robert Wagner character in the 1960s television, series It Takes a Thief.

Monday, who plied his trade in the Worcester area, decided to steal art principally for its value, Amore said.

anthony_amore4Amore told the often amusing tale of how Monday planned out and hired two young thieves to carry out the famous 1972 theft of four valuable paintings, including Rembrandts’ “Saint Bartholomew at the Worcester Art Museum.

The two thieves that Monday hired stole the paintings while the museum was open, but shot a guard on the way out. While celebrating in a bar later that day, they bragged about their exploits, which only led law enforcement and other criminals to focus on Monday. The scrutiny eventually led to the recovery of the paintings after some other crooks forced Monday at gunpoint to take them to where the paintings were hidden.

Amore said that it drives him crazy when people describe the 1990 Gardner heist as “one of the biggest art heists in history,” because it’s a gross understatement.

“It’s the biggest theft of anything, anywhere,” Amore said.

The theft was carried out by two thieves dressed as Boston cops who got a night security guard to let them in the museum. Once inside, the thieves tied up the guards and spent over an hour stealing 13 priceless art works valued at least of $500 million.

One of the three Rembrandts stolen, Storm on the Sea of Galilee, is considered among the world’s most valuable paintings, along with Vermeer’s The Concert which was also stolen. Priceless works by Gaugin and Manet were taken as well.

Amore is confident the paintings stolen from the Gardner will one day be recovered.

He said that historically, high value art is recovered either right away or a generation later – in the latter case because after people who were once intimidating have died or have aged, other individuals who were afraid to come forward before are often more willing to talk.

He said that he believes that the paintings are most likely still within a 45 minute drive of Boston.

Amore assure the audience that he is in constant contact with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies trying to locate the paintings.

“Work continues on it seven days a week,” Amore said. “That’s how I know we’re going to get them back – because we’re doing everything humanly possible.”

[This story originally appeared in the March 30, 2016 Wakefield Daily Item.]

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