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Camorra still possesses stolen Rembrandt, art hunters say – Could Boston heist painting have ended up in Italy?

By David Amoruso

The Neapolitan Camorra still possesses a stolen Rembrandt painting, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf reported today. The daily paper talked to looted art hunter Arthur Brand and private detective Sander van Betten, both men claim the missing Rembrandt piece “remains hidden at one of the many hundreds of secret stash houses in and around Naples.”

Brand and Van Betten were tipped off by an underworld source, who told them about three stolen paintings, two Van Goghs and one Rembrandt. The two investigators immediately knew which Van Goghs, but it is harder to determine which painting of Rembrandt is in the Camorra’s possession as several of his paintings are currently listed as stolen.

Last week, Italian authorities found two stolen Van Gogh paintings in a house owned by the Camorra. Its owner is alleged to be fugitive Camorra drug boss Raffaele Imperiale, who is currently holed up in Dubai.

The reason both Brand and Van Betten are pretty determined that Imperiale and his Camorra group own a stolen Rembrandt as well, is because Imperiale was in Amsterdam during the time of the heist at the Van Gogh Museum - He ran several coffeeshops (legal marijuana stores) in the Dutch city.

According to their underworld source, Imperiale was very worried about having the stolen paintings in his possession and was eager to get rid of them, offering them to buyers at a discount. “These kind of works are like a hot potato,” Brand told De Telegraaf. “You can’t sell this type of art and can only use it as bond during drug or weapon transactions. And Imperiale didn’t even do that.”

Though it is difficult to determine exactly which Rembrandt the Camorra possesses, it is interesting to note that several Rembrandt paintings were stolen in a heist that is connected to the American Mafia.

The $500 million dollar Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist in Boston

On March 18, 1990, thieves perpetrated the largest private property theft in history, making off with thirteen stolen art works worth $500 million from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It was a well-planned and perfectly executed heist. The two thieves dressed up as police officers and were let into the museum by the security guards. They then spent a long hour plundering the museum.

No one has ever been charged with the burglary, but authorities have long had their eyes on members of the American Mafia, La Cosa Nostra. At first they eyed Robert Donati, a member of the Patriarcia crime family of New England, which rules Boston, but Donati was murdered in 1991 as a result of a mob war in Boston.

After Donati’s death, the art haul passed on from one mobster to the next with no one willing or able to get rid of the $500-million-dollar loot. As Brand said, a hot potato indeed. As each wiseguy was sent off to prison or the afterlife, authorities say the art collection eventually fell into the lap of Robert “Bobby the Cook” Gentile, an aging mobster from Hartford, Connecticut, who was made into the Philadelphia crime family and was part of its New England crew.

As their suspicions rose, the FBI raided Gentile’s home in 2012 and discovered a hand-written list of each of the stolen pieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum accompanied with their estimated values on the black market.

Unfortunately, that was all they found. The raid turned up none of the stolen artwork and Gentile remained silent about his criminal dealings and possible involvement.

Of course, that is not to say Gentile did not discuss the stolen art at all. Talking to a confidential informant who was wearing a recording device, Gentile said he had access to two paintings stolen during the Boston heist, one of them a Rembrandt. He offered the piece for $500,000 or more.

Could it be this Rembrandt painting that Dutch looted art hunters now think is in possession of the Neapolitan Camorra? Probably not. But if not this one, perhaps one of the other Rembrandt pieces that were stolen that night in 1990.

The American Mafia and the Mafia groups in Italy have always maintained close links, when possible. It is not unlikely that someone “knew a guy” who himself “knew another guy” who perhaps “knew a guy who would be interested.”

Little did that guy realize the trouble he would find himself in after buying such a hot potato.

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