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Published: Thursday, 10/25/2007

N.J. man is arrested for theft of Toledo Museum of Art masterpiece

BY TAHREE LANE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Francisco de Goya y Lucientes' 'Children with a Cart' was recovered by the FBI a week after it was stolen in November, 2006. The 1778 oil painting, which was insured for $1 million, was being loaned by the Toledo Museum of Art to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City for an exhibition of Spanish painters. Francisco de Goya y Lucientes' 'Children with a Cart' was recovered by the FBI a week after it was stolen in November, 2006. The 1778 oil painting, which was insured for $1 million, was being loaned by the Toledo Museum of Art to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City for an exhibition of Spanish painters.
VIA BLOOMBERG NEWS Enlarge

A New Jersey truck driver has been charged with the theft last year of a 1778 painting by Spanish master Francisco de Goya y Lucientes owned by the Toledo Museum of Art.

Steven Lee Olson, 49, was arrested without incident Tuesday at his Bergen County home in Carlstadt.

The painting, Children with a Cart, was en route in November from Toledo to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City when its transporters stopped for the night at a motel in Stroudsburg, Pa., leaving the painting in the truck. By morning, it had vanished.

The FBI said the extensive media coverage about the theft led to a tip, and a week later the unharmed painting, surrounded by its packing material, was found in central New Jersey.

"It is satisfying to learn that an arrest has been made, and we commend the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office for their diligent investigation," said Don Bacigalupi, director of the museum.

Mr. Olson was indicted yesterday in U.S. District Court in Newark and charged with theft of an object of cultural heritage from a museum, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He remains in custody until a bail hearing Wednesday, said Sandra Carroll, an FBI special agent in Newark.

It remains to be seen whether the heist was a simple cargo theft or if the thief had inside information about the Goya and its route. The transport company has not been identified.

However, selling such a recognizable work of art would have been very difficult, art experts have said.

Insured for $1.1 million, the oil painting was being loaned to the Guggenheim for an exhibit of Spanish painters.

After its recovery and return to Toledo, the museum again shipped it to New York; the second time, successfully.

Contacted by The Blade last week, FBI special agent Sean Quinn in the Newark office said of the ongoing investigation: "It's a unique case. You don't have many chances with a singular situation like this. You have to proceed very carefully, methodically."

The FBI has not determined who will receive a $50,000 reward offered by the insurer.

The Toledo museum, like other museums, shippers, and insurers in the wake of the high-profile theft, has since tightened its procedures when shipping works of art.

"We have strengthened our vigilance in all loan procedures," said Carol Bintz, the museum's chief operating officer.

The painting is on view in the Toledo museum's Gallery 28A.



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