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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, December 9, 2016

Queens Man Charged In Manhattan Federal Court With Sale Of Artwork Stolen From Prominent New York Collection

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today a complaint charging LEON ZINDER with the interstate sale of stolen property in connection with his theft and attempted sale of more than a dozen works of art.  ZINDER was arrested this morning at his home in Forest Hills, Queens, and will be presented this afternoon in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Katherine H. Parker. 

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said:  “As alleged, Leon Zinder stole works of art worth more than $600,000 from his employer and then sought to sell them through a flea market in Manhattan.  This Office, working with our law enforcement partners at the FBI, have helped recover and return countless works of stolen art and artifacts to their rightful owners.  And today, we do so again, as well as seeking to hold the alleged thief accountable.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. said:   “As we allege in our case, Leon Zinder stole African tribal and Native American art from his employer over a two year period then fabricated stories of the pieces coming from a storage-unit close-out sale or from an elderly widow in Arizona to establish a consignment sale relationship with an unsuspecting art dealer.  This case was brought forward to the FBI by an art dealer who started to realize these stories were too good to be true.”

According to the allegations in the Complaint[1]:

From approximately July 2010 through April 2012, LEON ZINDER was employed as an art handler by a New York-based company (the “Company”) that manages an extensive art collection consisting of thousands of individual artworks, including an extensive collection of Native-American and African ethnographic artwork.  During that time, ZINDER stole at least 13 works of art from facilities maintained by the Company. 

Beginning in approximately September of 2015 through October 2016, ZINDER sold, or attempted to sell, the stolen artwork through a consignment relationship with an art dealer who conducted his business through an outdoor flea market in lower Manhattan (the “Dealer”).  As part of his efforts to sell the stolen artwork, ZINDER falsely claimed he had obtained the works from both the elderly widow of a sheriff in Phoenix, Arizona, and from a storage-unit close-out sale.

In total, ZINDER attempted to sell at least 13 works of art through the Dealer, worth more than $600,000.  This included at least three items that ZINDER had stolen from the Company’s Greenwich, Connecticut, facility and transported to Manhattan: a Fang Reliquary Guardian Head statue valued at approximately $85,000; a Native American mask valued at approximately $75,000; and a Pende mask valued at approximately $5,000.

Eventually, the Dealer became aware that several of the artworks he had helped ZINDER to sell had been reported stolen by the Company.  At that point, the Dealer contacted the FBI and began assisting in the subsequent investigation, including turning over the majority of the stolen works to the FBI.

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ZINDER, 48, of Forest Hills, Queens, is charged with one count of interstate sale of stolen property, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the defendant’s gross gain or twice the victim’s gross loss resulting from the defendant’s conduct, whichever is greater.  The statutory maximum penalties are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant would be determined by the judge.

Mr. Bharara thanked the FBI’s Art Crime Team for its outstanding work on this matter.

Anyone with information relevant to this investigation is asked to contact the FBI’s Art Crime Team at (212) 384-1000 or https://tips.fbi.gov/.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorney Noah Falk is in charge of the case.

 

[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint and the description of the Complaint set forth below constitute only allegations and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

 

Press Release Number: 
16-333
Updated December 9, 2016