Mass. Lawyer Hid Stolen Cezanne, Other Paintings for 28 Years

February 2, 2006

A retired Massachusetts lawyer secretly held seven stolen paintings, including a Paul Cezanne still-life worth millions of dollars, for 28 years because he wanted a 10 percent finders fee, the Boston Globe reported Wednesday.

The paintings, including Cezanne’s “Bouteille et Fruits,” had been stolen from a collector’s home in the Berkshires in 1978. Robert M. Mardirosian, a retired lawyer-turned-painter and sculpture, said the paintings were left in a bag in his attic by a client he was representing in another case after he’d gone to his Watertown office seeking advice.

“He was going to bring them to Florida to fence them, but I told him that if he ever got caught with them with the other case hanging over his head, he’d be in real trouble,” Mardirosian told the Globe. “So he left them upstairs in my attic in a big plastic bag.”

When Mardirosian said he discovered the paintings in 1979, Colvin had been shot to death in Pittsfield by two Boston men seeking to collect on a debt. The lawyer said he considered returning the works to their owner, Michael Bakwin of Stockbridge, but changed his mind when he discovered that none of the art had been insured.

Mardirosian, now 71, hid the paintings in Monaco and then in a Swiss bank while he said he worked to recoup 10 percent of their value from Bakwin. As a part of his plan, Mardirosian set up a shell company to facilitate a trade or sale.

A lawsuit filed last year by Bakwin and the Art Loss Register, a London-based company that tracks stolen artwork, led to a hearing Tuesday in London, during which Mardirosian was identified as sole owner of the shell company, Erie International. The judge ruled that Mardirosian was responsible for paying an estimated $3 million in court, legal, and investigative fees accumulated by Bakwin in trying to get his paintings back.

“I know some things don’t look good here, but I believe I have a legitimate case to make,” Mardirosian said. “I could have sold these a dozen times, but never did. My whole intent was to find a way to get them back to the owner in return for a 10 percent commission.”

The other works include two portraits by Chaim Soutine and two by French painters Maurice de Vlaminck and Maurice Utrillo.

The chairman of Art Loss Register, a London-based company that tracks stolen art, said he hopes the FBI investigates Mardirosian role in the theft.

“Mardirosian should have surrendered these stolen pictures as soon as he knew of their location,” said Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the Art Loss Register. “We will be providing all the help that we can to the FBI.”

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