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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Massachusetts

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, February 15, 2018

West Virginia Man Pleads Guilty to Fraud Charges

Defendant Tried to Fraudulently Obtain $5 Million for Stolen Artwork That He Did Not Possess

BOSTON – A Beckley, W.Va., man pleaded guilty today in federal court in Boston in connection with a scheme where he purported to sell paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990, on Craigslist.  

Todd Andrew Desper, a/k/a “Mordokwan,” 48, pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud and attempted wire fraud. U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel scheduled sentencing for May 15, 2018. In May 2017, Desper was arrested in West Virginia and charged in a criminal complaint. 

Desper, acting under the pseudonym “Mordokwan,” solicited foreign buyers for both the Storm on the Sea of Galilee and Vermeer’s The Concert on Craigslist in a number of foreign cities including Venice and London. Desper directed interested buyers to create an encrypted email account to communicate with him.  Authorities were notified of the foreign Craigslist notices by individuals seeking to assist in the recovery of the artwork, as well as those seeking the multi-million dollar reward offered by the Museum.  

At the direction of federal authorities, the security director for the Gardner Museum engaged in encrypted communications with Desper in an attempt to determine whether Desper had access to the stolen masterpieces. Desper instructed the security director to send a cashier’s check for $5 million to a location in West Virginia and that the Storm on the Sea of Galilee would then be sent in return, concealed behind another painting. The investigation ultimately revealed that Desper had no access to, nor information about, the stolen paintings, but was instead engaged in a multi-million dollar fraud scheme targeting foreign art buyers.  

On March 18, 1990, 13 pieces of artwork were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in the early morning hours. According to security guards, two white males dressed in Boston Police uniforms gained entrance to the Gardner Museum by stating that they were responding to a report of a disturbance within the museum compound.  Upon entry, the thieves subdued and secured the guards and went on to commit the largest art theft in history, taking 13 works of art including Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee and Vermeer’s The Concert.  The combined value of the art stolen during the Gardner theft is estimated at $500 million, although several of the works are considered priceless within the art community.

The charging statute provides for a sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine up to $250,000.  Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling and Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division, made the announcement today. Assistance was provided the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of West Virginia, the FBI Pittsburgh Field Division, and the Beckley Police Department.  The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Miron Bloom of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division.

 

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Updated February 15, 2018