BOSTON, MA.- A federal complaint was unsealed today following the arrest of a retired Massachusetts attorney on a charge of possessing, concealing, storing and attempting to sell stolen goods that had crossed United States borders, in connection with seven pieces of art stolen in 1978 from a Stockbridge home - the largest burglary from a private residence in Massachusetts history.
United States Attorney Michael J. Sullivan and Warren T. Bamford, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in New England, announced today that ROBERT R. MARDIROSIAN, 72, of 9 Highwood Lane, Falmouth, Massachusetts, and St. Paul de Vence, France, was arrested today on a complaint charging him with possession, concealment, storage and attempted sale of goods that had crossed a United States boundary that he knew to have been stolen. MARDIROSIAN was arrested today at Bostons Logan International Airport as he disembarked a flight from France. He will appear later today in federal court before a U.S. Magistrate Judge.
It is extremely disheartening that an attorney charged with upholding the law, as the defendant was in this case, would disregard that duty and for decades conceal the whereabouts of priceless works of art for no other reason than greed, stated U.S. Attorney Sullivan. As a result, the paintings have needlessly been kept from their rightful owner for nearly thirty years. The defendant is alleged to have held on to the artwork because he hoped to receive payment in exchange for their return. No one involved in the theft or concealment of art should be allowed to profit. We will continue to pursue this case until all of the stolen artwork is reunited with its rightful owner.
It is unconscionable to think that an attorney, knowingly in possession of stolen property, would negotiate the return of the paintings for a finders fee instead of returning them to the rightful owner, commented FBI Special Agent in Charge Bamford.
On Memorial Day weekend in 1978, seven pieces of valuable artwork, including the Cezanne painting, Pitcher and Fruits, were stolen from a home in Stockbridge. According to affidavits filed with the court, and unsealed today, MARDIROSIAN, now retired, practiced law in Massachusetts from the 1960's until 1995. It is alleged that MARDIROSIAN has secretly held the stolen paintings since 1978 after the alleged thief, David Colvin, whom MARDIROSIAN represented in another case, left them with him. Colvin was killed in a dispute with gambling debt collectors in 1979 at his home in Pittsfield.
It is alleged that MARDIROSIAN maintained possession of the stolen artwork in Massachusetts until 1988, when he moved the paintings to Monaco and later to a Swiss bank for safekeeping. It is alleged that MARDIROSIAN intended to return the stolen paintings to their owner in exchange for a finders fee or 10% of their value. According to the affidavit, MARDIROSIAN was able to keep his possession of the paintings secret by working through lawyers in London, Monaco and Switzerland, as well as a Panamanian shell company he created, Erie International Trading Co. (Erie).
It is alleged that using the cover of the Panamanian shell company in 1999, MARDIROSIAN attempted to sell the stolen paintings in London. However, an investigation by the Art Loss Register (ALR) determined that the artwork was stolen. ALR is a London-based company that maintains a comprehensive database of stolen artwork. Auction houses, such as Sothebys, retain ALRs services when performing due diligence on artwork to be auctioned.
ALR alerted the Stockbridge owner that his stolen paintings had surfaced and ultimately, on October 15, 1999, brokered a contract between the owner and Erie, whereby Erie handed over the most valuable painting, the Cezanne, in exchange for the owners relinquishing all claims to the remaining six pieces of artwork. At the time, the six paintings were given a total value of approximately $1 million. Two months later in December, the owner auctioned the Cezanne through Sothebys in London for $29.3 million - it had been purchased by the owners mother for $500,000 in 1963.
In November 2004, Sothebys was contacted by Paul Palandjian of Belmont, seeking to have the auction house sell four paintings for his client. After taking possession of the four paintings, Sothebys was informed by ALR that the paintings were among the six remaining stolen Stockbridge paintings. The owner thereafter filed suit in the English courts against Sothebys and Erie claiming that the 1999 contract he entered into with Erie was void because it had been signed under duress. Ultimately in December 2005, the British court found in favor of the Stockbridge owner ruling that the 1999 contract was void. The Court also revealed that the client for whom Palandjian was trying to sell the four stolen paintings was MARDIROSIAN.
According to a search warrant affidavit, Palandjian told investigators that in December 2003, MARDIROSIAN asked him to help in selling the remaining six stolen paintings. Palandjian agreed to do so for a commission. After beginning to make arrangements with Sothebys to sell the paintings at auction, Palandjian flew to Geneva, Switzerland and received the six remaining paintings from MARDIROSIANs friend, Henri Klein, who had been holding them for MARDIROSIAN. Palandjian had them brought to a Swiss bank for storage, until April 2005, when he arranged for four of the six paintings to be shipped from Geneva to Sothebys in London - after which the owner filed his suit seeking to void the 1999 contract with Erie. The remaining two paintings were returned to Klein.
The four paintings, Portrait dune Jeune Fille and Portrait dun Jeune Homme by Chaim Soutine, and Maison Rouge and Flowers by Maurice de Vlaminck remain in the custody of Sothebys Auction house. The remaining two stolen paintings, Woman Seated and Boy by Jean Jansen are believed to be in the possession of Henri Klein in Switzerland.
MARDIROSIAN will appear this afternoon in federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Marianne B. Bowler. If convicted, MARDIROSIAN faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, to be followed by 3 years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine.
The investigation is continuing.
The case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation with assistance from the Art Loss Registry. It is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Mitchell in Sullivans Economic Crimes Unit.
The details contained in the complaint are allegations. The defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.