Reuters reports that a man in West Virginia pleaded guilty to charges of fraudulently attempting to sell nearly $500 million in artwork that was stolen from a museum in Boston in 1990. Interestingly, the man never had access to the paintings he was trying to sell.
Todd Desper, 48, is pleading guilty to wire fraud charges stemming from a scheme he put into action to offer to sell two of the paintings stolen and never recovered from the largest art heist in U.S. history.
The two paintings he tried to sell are Rembrandt’s “Storm on the Sea of Galilee“ and Vermeer’s “The Concert.” A total of 13 works of art were stolen in the heist that remains to this day one of the “highest-profile unsolved crimes in Boston history.”
Sentencing for Desper is scheduled to take place on May 15. His defense attorney was not available for comment, but the wire fraud charge carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.
Prosecutors say that Desper was operating under the alias “Mordokwan” from November 2016 to January 2017, and offered the paintings for sale to foreigners through Craigslist. Potential buyers communicated with him via encrypted email accounts, says Reuters.
Tips were received by the FBI and the museum regarding the paintings. The museum was offering a multi-million dollar award for the recovery of the missing artwork.
The security director of the museum began communicating with Desper via one of the accounts under the direction of law enforcement. Desper instructed him to send a $5 million cashier’s check to an address in West Virginia.
However, it was found that Desper did not ever have possession of the paintings and was fraudulently targeting foreign buyers. He was arrested at his home in Beckley, West Virginia on May 22, 2017.
*Photo credit Reuters/Jessica Rinaldi