ARTnewsletter Archive

Lawyer Faces Ten Years in Prison For Holding Stolen Artworks

On August 18, a federal court in Boston found Robert M. Mardirosian, 74, of Falmouth, Mass., guilty of knowingly possessing six paintings that had been stolen 30 years earlier from a Stockbridge home (ANL, 2/14/06).

NEW YORK—On August 18, a federal court in Boston found Robert M. Mardirosian, 74, of Falmouth, Mass., guilty of knowingly possessing six paintings that had been stolen 30 years earlier from a Stockbridge home (ANL, 2/14/06). The retired lawyer, who will be sentenced on Nov. 18, faces up to 10 years in prison. Mardirosian plans to appeal the decision, according to his attorney, Brian Fitzsimmons.

The works include two paintings by the Turkish-born Parisian painter Jean Jansem (1920–90), two portraits by Chaim Soutine, and one painting each by Maurice Utrillo and Maurice de Vlaminck. They were stolen in 1978 by David Colvin, a client of Mardirosian’s. (A seventh painting, a Paul Cézanne still life, Bouilloire et fruits, valued at $30 million, had also been stolen with the others, but Mardirosian was not charged with possession of that artwork because the statute of limitations had expired for that picture.)

Colvin, who had been charged with a different crime and wanted to conceal the evidence of the art theft, left the works in an office owned by Mardirosian, according to court filings. Mardirosian allegedly had knowledge that the works were stolen, according to court records. The paintings were not insured. In 1979, Colvin was killed by two men who were seeking to collect on a debt.

Mardirosian set up a shell corporation, Erie International, as the holder of the work, with a Panamanian address, and stored the artwork in Switzerland. In 1999 Mardirosian attempted to sell all seven paintings through Sotheby’s. It took seven years and lengthy negotiations involving the London-based Art Loss Register (which maintains a database of stolen artwork), Sotheby’s and the High Court in London to return the works to the legal owner, Michael Bakwin.

Bakwin decided not to keep the Cézanne— which, along with the other six paintings, had been purchased by his parents in the 1930s—because of security concerns, and sold it at auction at Sotheby’s London in 1999 for £18 million ($29.3 million.)

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