FORMER SEATTLE ART DEALER PLEADS GUILTY TO ART THEFT CONSPIRACY
Former Gallery Owner Worked with Burglar to Target and Steal Expensive Art
KURT LIDTKE, the former owner of Kurt Lidtke Galleries in Seattle, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to conspiracy to transport stolen property in interstate commerce, and interstate transportation of stolen property. LIDTKE was arrested May 11, 2010, in Bozeman, Montana following a lengthy undercover investigation by the FBI. LIDTKE faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy count and ten years in prison for interstate transportation of stolen property when sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik on February11, 2011.
According to the plea agreement, in 2008, LIDTKE and a second defendant, Jerry H. Christy, met while both were inmates at the Washington State Corrections Center in Monroe, Washington. LIDTKE was incarcerated for theft for selling paintings on consignment to his gallery without informing or paying the owners of the artwork. While in prison LIDTKE and Christy hatched a plan to steal valuable artwork from homes in Seattle, and resell it. When they were out of prison and executed the plan, they contacted a buyer who turned out to be an undercover agent with the FBI. During the course of the investigation, the FBI conducted surveillance of the defendants and of possible targets. In May 2010, the FBI had Seattle Police Officers contact Christy while he was parked in a van outside a targeted home. The home was targeted because LIDTKE was aware of the art collection because of his prior career as an art dealer. In the course of the investigation, the FBI recovered numerous paintings and a sculpture that had been stolen in a Seattle burglary in November 2009. Paintings recovered in the course of the investigation include two by northwest artist Morris Graves, one by Mark Tobey, and a Rembrandt etching.
Jerry H. Christy a/k/a Nick Natti, of Granite Falls, Washington, has a plea hearing scheduled for tomorrow. His wife, Georgia Christy a/k/a Monica Natti, pleaded guilty to interstate transportation of stolen goods last month and is scheduled for sentencing in January 2011.
This investigation was provided assistance by the FBI’s Art Crime Team, which was formed in response to the looting of Iraqi antiquities following the Gulf War and is comprised of a cadre of Special Agents and Assistant United States Attorneys with specialized knowledge and experience in art and cultural property investigations.
The case is being investigated by the FBI. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Andrew Friedman.
For additional information please contact Emily Langlie, Public Affairs Officer for the United States Attorney’s Office, at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@USDOJ.Gov.