Gardner Museum Heist – FBI Folly Forgetting First Facts and Following Fake Footprints. 3 of 4

Hoover with Machine GunConnor is smart enough to know the MO of Donati and Houghton  was not art robbery so suggesting that they did it was a non starter. Connor also knows that there is no way he can be contradicted. Both Donati and Houghton are dead at the time he gives out their names. Then, the only reason he can say for them to do it is that they needed a bargaining chip, that was what Connor often needed, but had no idea for what.  Connor is trying to get something for his supposed knowledge; remember he is a con man, one of the best.

This tells me Connor is making up the whole story. If “two mugs” were hired by Donati that would add two wild cards to the story. Had they existed they would have been known by now and identified. Strangely, now get this, the story becomes warped and the “two mugs” will soon disappear from it and Donati and Houghton will become the actual thieves.

Keep in mind that FBI Agent Falzon knows all this. He is buying none of it. He said the FBI “never got a quality piece of information.” 

Things change as time passes. Twenty-five years later the FBI under new  agents is still at work trying to solve the case. Here and here are articles on it.

The first one contradicts what was known 18 years earlier. There it has Donati and Houghton as the robbers even though Donati knows nothing about art; there it says they hung out at TRC in Dorchester and did the job because Carmelo Merlino said he had a buyer for the stuff overseas?

The article is self-contradictory. On one hand it suggests the thieves did not know what they were doing; on the other there is a buyer for the goods lined up. It makes no sense. To add to it, some retired babbling FBI agent is quoted as saying “they got the okay to pull it.” Since when do you need an okay to rob an art museum?

Now look how absurd the situation has become. The article alleges many others know about the theft – Mafia guys Vinny Ferrara, Joe Russo, Frank Salemme – all guys who did long bits and never mentioned anything about the heist which they surely would have done to cut down their sentences.

The second article includes names of others who allegedly know about the art work like Charles Quintina who also did time and never mentioned the art. Had the Mafia anything to do with it then that would have been known by now.

We now venture into the world of guess-work. Merlino supposedly ends up with the art from Donati and Houghton. No one knows how this happened. People friendly with Merlino knew nothing about it.  Merlino would go to prison  and die there. Would that have happened if he knew by giving evidence on the art work, which had then become worthless, he could have avoided prison? Plus, if any of these hoodlums had any idea that would help the FBI there was a five million no question asked reward for the works recovery.

Unfortunately,  Connor’s initial nonsense story had become the path the FBI was running on. It was a wrong turn. The FBI closed its eyes to the many signs that told it to turn back. Meanwhile the true thieves have gone on with their lives enjoying the comedy.

Merlino gives them nothing so the FBI looks at Merlino’s friends and assumes he gave the art to them. One of them is Robert Guarente who was buddies with Robert Gentile. They worked for Robert Luisi, Jr. The FBI at a dead end believes these three Bobs must know somethin’ although they don’t say nothin’.

This is the point what I have always called in an investigation the “target of convenience.”  I’ve seen investigators arrive at it before. They have nothing but in desperation leap on to anything and then justify the leap going backwards. Once case involved a young woman who was found murdered in a sand pit in Wrentham. When news went out about the discovery a guy came forward to say the description of the woman seemed to fit one he had picked up thumbing a couple days earlier on 495. He gave her a ride to Worcester. With nothing else to go on that guy became a suspect. It turned out  he had nothing to do with it but there were some who insisted otherwise. (continued tomorrow) 

9 thoughts on “Gardner Museum Heist – FBI Folly Forgetting First Facts and Following Fake Footprints. 3 of 4

  1. According to government court documents, the last credible info on the location of the Gardner paintings was that they were stashed in Maine, where Joe Murray was executed at his Belgrade, ME cottage home in 1992. Other pleadings mentioned that Joe Murray had previously secured valuable museum items, including paintings, to use as arrest insurance bargaining chips.

    In a unrelated discovery, I recall reviewing partially redacted FBI 302 reports regarding John ” Mick” Murray (no relation to Joe Murray) where the Gardner paintings were discussed pursuant to an IRA meeting in Dublin with Boston FBI SA Michael Wilson (and possibly FBI SA Brendan Cleary).

  2. @,

    Vanity Fair.

    “……later, speaking of Youngworth’s treachery, Connor told me, “He has stolen 99.9 percent of my belongings. At one point I wanted to live in a baronial Tudor mansion with all my things around me.” He paused. “Perhaps it’s a blessing. All I need now is a Japanese teahouse.“

    From 1993 to 1997, according to Judith Youngworth, she and Billy were in a narcotics tailspin. Desperate for money and ill-equipped to keep their business running, she said, the couple started selling off bits and pieces of Connor’s property, in the end displaying many of his items as antiques for sale in their store.

    Soon they started missing rental payments on Almost Antiques. By 1995 they had sold their $413,000 Newton home at a loss, acquiring in its stead the Barn, a ramshackle building that was part used-furniture store, part residence, on a two-acre site in nearby Randolph. Youngworth’s behavior “was very erratic,” said Robert Webber, their landlord in Allston, who evicted the couple in 1994.

    At one point that year, Youngworth lodged a $100,000 claim with his insurer, Fitchburg Mutual Insurance Co., asserting that he had been robbed of Oriental rugs at gunpoint in the basement of Almost Antiques. The insurers refused to pay, citing “compelling evidence” that no crime ever occurred.

    One former employee at the Barn says Billy and Judy probably spent $500,000 on drugs in two years, 1995 and 1996, meanwhile ignoring piles of bills. Under aliases and in his own name, Youngworth now owes thousands of dollars to utility companies. The I.R.S. has a $19,535 tax lien on the Barn. In November 1997, from jail, he declared bankruptcy.”

  3. @,

    Yeah….I can see your logic,….being in “all caps”,….it could be nothing but…..authentic.
    That’s almost as good as a signature.
    ……Give me a break.
    My guess is that Youngworth was behind those letters.
    Time frame and circumstances fit. He got physical possession of Connor’s trailer in mid-92 while Connor was in prison.
    93-97 he was out of control on drugs…..needed money.
    He was a protégé of Connor, and they fancied themselves movers and shakers (in their world) and international connoisseurs of fine art….paintings, documents, coins, currency…(usually other people’s) hence the grandiose secret signal in the financial page. The specific request to place the signal in the next to the “lira” was, quite obviously, to induce the thought of mafia involvement.
    And seriously are you for real…?…”Perhaps he staked out one of the big out of town newspaper stands in Manhattan and observed FBI interest in the vicinity, and/or hung around the periodical section of the New York Public Library on the following Monday and saw FBI around.”

    Sure he did….he was hoping he would pick the right newsstand out of thousands in Manhattan, and then the right person at the right time…reading the right page of the newspaper, or the right person reading the right page of the newspaper at the library…and don’t forget about his bionic vision…..

    Youngworths’ spiraling, stealing, and scheming led to your guy Mashberg driving to Brooklyn one night with him in 9, and he schemed 10,000 from the Gardner around this time, on the pretext of helping them.

    1. Even if the all caps thing is foolish there is plenty of evidence that the letters are credible. And even more evidence that Youngworth is not.

      From Master Thieves:

      “Though unsigned, the two-page letter was written with a command of legal terms, as if it had come from a lawyer, and conveyed a knowledge of the Gardner theft that only museum insiders and the FBI knew at the time.”

      Youngworth had no inside knowledge of the crime. Though smart, he lacked the educational attainments to have written the letter. He could not compose and drugged out did not sit down and type a formal, professional looking two-page letter on a typewriter in 1994, and then drive down to New York City twice just for a NYC postmark on the envelope. How would Youngworth know that the FBI did not stand down? It was outside of Boston that they did not stand down according to Master Thieves.

      Buying the Boston Globe in Manhattan wasn’t like buying the New York Times in Boston. He wouldn’t have to pick just the right newsstand. That would be the FBI’s job. They would go to the distribution company and find out all of the places that sold the Globe and they would visit all or what would be the point. Maybe he had a friend in the business. It’s just one possibility. He wrote that he knew that the FBI didn’t stand down and he was right.

  4. The only solid evidence that has been made public, as such, as to who took the paintings and who has or had them was the “Lira Letter” ransom note, and a follow up note which the Gardner Museum received in the Spring of 1994.

    In 2004, ten years later, Gardner Director Anne Hawley still considered the ransom notes received in 1994 the most important lead in the case, Steve Kurkjian said in a radio interview earlier this year. Only excerpts of the note have been released to the public. The letter displayed a knowledge of the Gardner heist that only insiders and the FBI knew at the time.

    The letter stated that: “To show him [the ransom not writer] that the museum was interested in negotiating, it should ask the Boston Globe to include the numeral one in front of the decimal point for the value of the dollar against the Italian lira in the currency column it ran inside the Sunday business pages.” — from Master Thieves by Stephen Kurkjian

    The Boston Globe complied and the extra digit was added in the May 1, 1994 edition of the Sunday Globe.

    The letter, postmarked from New York City, also demanded that the FBI stand down, which they admit, they did not do entirely do. Somehow the ransom note writer caught wind of this. Perhaps he staked out one of the big out of town newspaper stands in Manhattan and observed FBI interest in the vicinity, and/or hung around the periodical section of the New York Public Library on the following Monday and saw FBI around. As a result of the known police activity, from whatever sources, the ransom note writer sent a second letter, some of it written “all caps” for emphasis, explaining that he needed time to evaluate his options. He was never heard from again.

    The follow up letter seems a bridge too far for anybody who was perpetuating a hoax No one has very made an effort to discredit these two letters, so assuming the notes are credible what are some possible clues?

    1. According to Kukjian the second letter stated: “If he decided it was impossible to continue negotiating, he would provide the museum with ‘a few solid clues where
    you can apply pressure to get the collection.’” Well he can’t be trying to pressure himself so this suggests that there is more than one decision maker and that the person who actually had physical control of the paintings (AT THAT TIME) had expressed safety concerns about making a deal.

    2. How many Bostonians ever noticed there was a “currency column” in their Sunday Globe. This suggest a New Yorker with a certain amount of financial means, yet also someone familiar with the city and the Boston Globe, like a former college student. In completely checking on past and present locals, you have to include the pool of a million or so former college students, the overwhelming majority of whom can be quickly, instantaneously eliminated.

    3. Why the lira? Why the currency column? Why not the sports page? It seems really doubtful that the Mafia would use the currency of Italy in this exchange. Other crime families might take offense at this completely avoidable and unwelcome red (white and green) flag. I can’t think of an instance where the Mafia ever operated like this.

    It could be that it was a tolerated weekly ritual for a regular customer to check the currency page without buying the paper. So maybe somebody with an Italy connection, but not necessarily Italian.

    As someone whose father sold the “Daily Recky” on the street corners of Boston, as a kid, I can assure you that letting people check the sports scores (or The Number) without buying the paper is a sure way to go out of business.

    There may also be a snobbery factor too. There is a measure of safety in snobbery. It can be an insecure person’s refuge in a tense situation, but it also has a real barrier effect. How else did small museums get away with weak security for so long? Fine art and its custodians are intimidating. Is someone more likely to go stomping around with a rented ground penetrating radar unit in a rich town like Wellesley or a more blue collar town, like Lowell?

    3. The notice also states a very specific and shifting motive. In Master Thieves Kurkjian wrote that the letter stated: “The paintings had been stolen to gain someone a reduction in a prison sentence, but as that opportunity had dwindled dramatically there was no longer a primary motive for keeping the artwork. ” This seems very specific compared with “to get my buddy out of jail.” It could just be the writer had an associate who had successfully navigated a potentially protracted criminal legal battle and come through on the other side unexpectedly unscathed. But “opportunity had dwindled dramatically” sounds despairing. There are, in fact, people who have committed crimes, like some homicides, or espionage, where you would not be able to get a reduced sentence even with the Gardner paintings, because of the public outcry. Imagine if Jonathan Pollard had requested release in exchange for the Gardner paintings.

    My suspicion is that the person who wrote the ransom letter back in 1994 used the suspicions about Gentile, first publicized in 2012. to persuade the person who was holding the art, that a deal could be made at this point in relative safety. And that this person, the ransom note writer, now has the paintings.

    Very likely this ransom note writer also made guarded inquiries with organized crime figures, at some point, when things went sour with the Gardner. That may be the initial source of some of the rumors of local organized crime involvement began and circulated.

    In 2009 Tom Mashberg, still at the Herald at that time, seemed to discount the Merlino / TRC Automotive theory, on the grounds that it originated with Richard “The Fat Man” Chicofsky, who swindled millions of dollars people with the promise of sharing the $5 million dollar reward and then disappeared.

    “Gardner heist: Where’s the Fat Man?” [A great read!]

  5. Matt,
    Hope you are feeling fine………

    I have one question regarding…..”there was a five million no question asked reward for the works recovery.”

    Everyone knows about the Five Million reward, but legally speaking, is it true that the Statute of Limitations is only for the actual robbery itself,….and any one to this very day, even if returning the works and qualifying for the reward, …..would absolutely still be eligible for prosecution relating to it’s current possession, and only would have real blanket immunity at Carmen Ortiz’ discretion?

    Maybe that’s why it hasn’t surfaced yet……………….

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