Thursday, November 18, 2010

Fencing Stolen Art: Bakwin Paintings, a 'Criminal Lawyer,' and Common Sense

"Art stolen from Sturbridge home in '78 returned to owner"
WHDH-TV (November 17, 2010)

WHDH-TV's account is a sort of conclusion to this more detailed, if not quite so up-to-date, account:

"The Bakwin Paintings – a tale of fraud and deceit"
Withers Worldwide (June 1, 2007)

"In 1999, an insurance underwriter asked the Art Loss Register in London to search its database of stolen art to confirm that the seven paintings he was asked to insure during transport from Russia to the UK had not been stolen. The Art Loss Register reported that the images of the paintings matched seven paintings stolen in 1978 from the private residence of Michael Bakwin, a Massachusetts collector. The paintings were valuable: they included a C├ęzanne, two Soutines, an Utrillo and a Vlaminck. Mr Bakwin instructed the Art Loss Register to try and recover them...."

"...Instead of handing the stolen paintings to the police, Mardirosian kept them and tried to sell them or return them in exchange for cash. When his name became public following the opening of the sealed envelope, he reportedly told Field Fisher Waterhouse, the London law firm ostensibly representing Erie, 'to give up'. Field Fisher Waterhouse terminated their representation...."

The thief who stole the paintings in the first place is dead. That should be "alleged thief," since the case apparently didn't go to trial.

An interesting detail: Withers Worldwide identified Robert Mardirosian as a "criminal lawyer practising in Massachusetts." There's a wisecrack about 'truth in advertising' lurking around the phrase "criminal lawyer," but the Lemming will leave that exercise up to the reader.

One thing that stands out in these accounts, for the Lemming, is how a lawyer - presumably sober and in possession of most of his marbles - could have thought he'd get away with fencing stolen property. By going through a legitimate agent. Not someone specialized in handling stolen property. Dealing with a professional fence wouldn't have been so daft. Illegal, unethical: but not so daft.

A few generations back, with slower and less detailed communication, maybe. Now?

The lawyer's in prison.


Brigid said...

What I don't get is who would buy a stolen painting. You can't display it, unless your a complete idiot, someone would notice.

Then again, considering the sort of people who go into a life of crime...

Brian, aka Aluwir, aka Norski said...


That's a point. I've heard that the motive can be the sort of pleasure that comes from having something very private, very secret.

Not that I'm justifying the purchase of stolen property.

And, as you say, 'considering the sort - - -.'

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