United States Attorney Jenny A. Durkan
Western District of Washington
FORMER SEATTLE ART DEALER SENTENCED TO PRISON FOR 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, was sentenced today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to four years in prison and three years of supervised release for 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. Chief U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik sentenced Lidtke above the applicable range under the sentencing guidelines, and told Lidtke, “You have tricked so many people into thinking you could be trusted to go into their homes, or entrusted to sell their art on consignment... but the evidence shows you are a thief who thinks he is entitled to other people’s property and money.”
LIDTKE pleaded guilty November 18, 2010. 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 April 2010, the FBI had Seattle Police Officers contact Christy while he was parked in a van outside a targeted home, and thereby prevented a burglary of that 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.
In his sentencing memo, Assistant United States Attorney Andrew Friedman asked Chief Judge Lasnik to go above the guidelines sentencing range. Mr. Friedman noted that LIDTKE started plotting his new crimes even while he was imprisoned for stealing art consigned to his gallery. “Lidtke put his knowledge of the art world to ill use by orchestrating burglaries of people’s homes. Burglaries are, of course, always dangerous crimes, and easily can result in confrontations between burglar and victim, which can end in violence, and perhaps deadly violence. Moreover, burglaries violate victims’ sense of security and trust in their own homes,” Mr. Friedman wrote in his sentencing memo. Prosecutors added that LIDTKE abused the trust of clients who had invited him into their homes to appraise their art.
Jerry H. Christy a/k/a Nick Natti, of Granite Falls, Washington, and his wife, Georgia Christy a/k/a Monica Natti, both pleaded guilty and will be sentenced later this year.
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.