By DAVE COLLINS, Associated Press
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A 76-year-old reputed mobster pleaded guilty Wednesday in a weapons and prescription drugs case that revealed the FBI’s belief that he has information about the largest art heist in history.
Robert Gentile, of Manchester, entered the pleas in federal court in Hartford and faces a prison sentence of around four years.
During a hearing earlier this year, a federal prosecutor disclosed that the FBI believed Gentile had some involvement with stolen property related to the 1990 heist at Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in which thieves made off with masterworks by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet worth more than a half-billion dollars.
Gentile hasn’t been charged in the art heist and insists he knows nothing about it. The theft wasn’t mentioned in the plea deal or at Wednesday’s hearing.
The artwork hasn’t been found and the museum is still offering a $5 million reward.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham has said that FBI agents had unproductive discussions with Gentile about the theft, but he didn’t elaborate on his allegations. Durham also said the FBI believes Gentile is a made member of a Philadelphia crime family.
Gentile’s attorney, A. Ryan McGuigan, said Wednesday that his client was subpoenaed by and testified before a grand jury investigating the art heist. He said Gentile apparently knew people who federal investigators believe were involved in the theft.
Gentile has been detained since February when he and an associate, Anthony Parente, were charged with selling illegally obtained prescription drugs including OxyContin, Dilaudid and Percocet.
Authorities searched Gentile’s home and reported finding homemade dynamite sticks, several guns, ammunition, homemade silencers, a bulletproof vest, handcuffs, police scanners, brass knuckles and $22,000 in cash at the bottom of a grandfather clock.
Federal agents swarmed Gentile’s home again in May in what McGuigan called a veiled attempt to find the stolen paintings. McGuigan said at the time that the FBI got a new warrant allowing the use of ground-penetrating radar to look for buried weapons, but he believed they really were looking for the artwork.
“This is nonsense,” McGuigan said in May. “This is the FBI. Are you trying to tell me they missed something the first time? They’re trying to find $500 million of stolen artwork. … All they’re going to find is night crawlers.”
Gentile was charged with three weapons crimes that each carried up to 10 years in prison and six drug crimes that carried up to 20 years in prison apiece. He wasn’t supposed to have any guns because of a 1990s larceny conviction.
In court Wednesday, he said he was pleading guilty to avoid the expense and aggravation of a trial. Prosecutors and his defense agreed on sentencing guidelines of 46 to 57 months in prison, but Gentile could face more or less prison time based on a report by probation officials.
The sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 6.
The drug case against Parente remains pending. He is free on bail.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)