West Virginia Man Charged in $500M Art Heist Fraud Scheme

A West Virginia man tried to fetch millions for two oil paintings he did not have access to and falsely claimed were stolen in the largest art heist in U.S. history, federal authorities said Monday.

Todd Desper, of Beckley, West Virginia, was arrested Monday at his home on wire fraud charges. He will appear first in a federal court in West Virginia Tuesday before facing the charges in Boston in June. It couldn’t be determined Monday if he has an attorney.

FBI Agent Geoffrey Kelly said in an affidavit that Desper, 47, solicited buyers on Craigslist for two of the most valuable paintings stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990: “Storm on the Sea of Galilee” and “The Concert.” He used a digital image that was a purported close-up of one of the paintings, Kelly said.

The actual paintings were among 13 stolen in the still-unsolved heist. The FBI told The Associated Press in August 2015 that two suspects who masqueraded as police officers to rob the museum of $500 million worth of masterpieces are deceased.

Desper sought $50 million for “The Concert” and $5 million for “Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” authorities said.

Authorities were notified by individuals seeking to help recover the artwork and those seeking the $5 million reward offered by the museum.

Authorities said Anthony Amore, the security director for the Gardner Museum, worked with federal authorities to determine whether Desper actually had access to the paintings.

Federal prosecutors said the investigation ultimately found that Desper had no access to or information about the paintings and was engaged in a multimillion dollar fraud scheme targeting foreign art buyers.

Desper denied having knowledge of the museum theft when questioned, according to the affidavit.