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Press Release

Queens Man Pleads Guilty To Selling Stolen Artwork From Prominent New York Collection

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of New York

Joon H. Kim, Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today that LEON ZINDER pled guilty to the interstate sale of stolen property in connection with his theft and attempted sale of more than a dozen works of art.  ZINDER pled guilty this morning in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Sarah Netburn. 

Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said:  “As he admitted today, Leon Zinder stole works of art worth more than $600,000 from his former employer, which he then sought to sell through a flea market in Manhattan.  Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the FBI, nearly all of these works have been recovered, and will be returned to their rightful owner.”

FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said:  “Today’s plea marks the end of Leon Zinder’s tall tales of discovering treasured art pieces that were really in fact stolen from his employer with the goal of reselling to profit himself. We applaud the art dealer who brought this case to our attention after realizing Zinder’s stories behind the art were really too good to be true.”

According to the charging documents filed in the case, as well as statements made during the plea proceeding:

From approximately July 2010 through April 2012, LEON ZINDER was employed as an art handler by a New York-based company that manages an extensive art collection consisting of thousands of individual artworks, including an extensive collection of Native-American and African ethnographic artwork (the “Company”).  During that time, ZINDER stole more than 70 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 the elderly widow of a sheriff in Phoenix, Arizona, and from a storage-unit close-out sale.

ZINDER attempted to sell more than a dozen of these works, worth more than $600,000, through the Dealer.  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.

* * *

ZINDER, 48, of Queens, New York, faces 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 the defendant’s sentence will be determined by a judge.  ZINDER will to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Kimba M. Wood on a date to be determined.

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

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.

Updated July 20, 2017

Financial Fraud
Press Release Number: 17-226