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Prosecutor: FBI Believes Connecticut Man Has Info In Half-Billion Dollar Boston Art Heist

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Chez Tortoni, by Manet (Courtesy Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum)

Chez Tortoni, by Manet (Courtesy Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum)

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ FBI investigators believe a reputed Connecticut mobster was somehow involved in a Boston heist that became the largest art theft in history, according to a federal prosecutor.

Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham revealed in federal court in Hartford this week that the FBI believes 75-year-old Robert Gentile has information about the still-unsolved 1990 heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, where thieves made off with upward of a half-billion dollars in masterworks by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet.

Durham didn’t elaborate on his allegations, and Gentile’s lawyer said his client doesn’t know anything about the art theft. Durham’s comments came during a hearing Tuesday over whether bail should be set for Gentile in a drug case,

The Hartford Courant  reported. U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny ordered Gentile to remain held without bail, saying he’s too dangerous.

Gentile, of Manchester, Conn., and associate Anthony Parente, also 75, were charged last month with selling prescription painkillers that were obtained illegally.

Durham said FBI agents have had unproductive discussions with Gentile about the art heist. He said the government opposed bail for Gentile because of his involvement in a host of other crimes.

Gentile is a reputed sworn member of a Philadelphia crime family with a criminal record dating back to the 1950s, the Courant reported. His lawyer has denied the mob allegations.

Gentile’s attorney, A. Ryan McGuigan, accused the government Tuesday of denying “a sick, old man” bail because he can’t provide information on the thefts.

“What is happening, Your Honor, is that the government is asking you to set a punitive bond, to keep him uncomfortable, to torture him,” McGuigan said. “He unfortunately doesn’t have the information that the government is looking for. But the government believes he does.”

Gentile confronted Durham during a courtroom recess. “Lies. Lies. It’s all lies,” he said.

Durham’s statements about Gentile and the art heist came when the judge pressed him about McGuigan’s claims.

In the early hours of March 18, 1990, two thieves dressed as police officers walked into the Boston museum, bound and gagged two guards and removed a number of masterworks, cutting some of the largest pieces from their frames.

The museum, which recently marked the 22nd anniversary of the heist, continues to offer a $5 million, no-questions-asked reward. Federal prosecutors, who made a renewed push to recover the paintings in 2010, are offering immunity.
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Information from: The Hartford Courant, http://www.courant.com

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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