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Press Release

West Virginia Man Sentenced on Fraud Charges

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Massachusetts
Defendant Tried to Fraudulently Obtain $5 Million for Stolen Artwork That He Did Not Possess

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

Todd Andrew Desper, a/k/a “Mordokwan,” 48, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Rya W. Zobel to time served and three years of supervised release, three months of which is to be served in home confinement. In February 2018, Desper pleaded guilty to four counts of wire fraud and attempted wire fraud. In May 2017, Desper was arrested in West Virginia and charged in a criminal complaint. 

Desper, acting under the pseudonym “Mordokwan,” solicited foreign buyers on Craigslist for both the Rembrandt’s Storm on the Sea of Galilee and Vermeer’s The Concert, two paintings that were stolen from the Isabella Steward Gardner Museum in 1990. 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.  

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. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sara Miron Bloom of Lelling’s Criminal Division prosecuted the case.

Updated May 15, 2018