Criminal Justice

Retired Mass. Lawyer is Convicted in Major Art Theft Case

A retired Massachusetts lawyer was convicted yesterday by a federal jury of possessing stolen goods in a convoluted art theft case that reads like a true-crime paperback.

Seven paintings including a Cezanne that sold at auction, years later, for nearly $30 million, were allegedly stolen in 1978 from a home in Stockbridge, Mass., by David Colvin, in what is believed to be the largest private art theft in state history. Colvin, who was a client of attorney Robert Mardirosian, was shot to death in 1979. But, according to court documents, he left the paintings in an office loft owned by his lawyer, who discovered them in 1980, reports the Boston Globe.

Mardirosian, who allegedly had been told by Colvin that the paintings were stolen, then stored them in Switzerland, the newspaper recounts. In 1999, he reportedly returned the Cezanne to the man from whom it was stolen, apparently without revealing his own identity, in exchange for an agreement that he could keep the other six paintings, which were less valuable. Those six paintings were at issue in the 74-year-old attorney’s trial in federal court in Boston: Mardirosian’s lawyers say he got them as a legitimate finder’s fee, in exchange for returning the Cezanne; prosecutors charged him with possessing and transporting stolen property.

The federal criminal case was sparked by Mardirosian’s decision to send four of the six paintings, through an intermediary, to Sotheby’s in London in 2005, apparently intending to have them auctioned there, according to the Globe. The original owner found out and sued to stop the sale, which revealed Mardirosian’s connection to the transaction and resulted in a federal investigation.

U.S. District Judge Mark Wolf dismissed a transportation charge against Mardirosian yesterday, saying that federal law doesn’t apply to a transfer between Switzerland and England, and that the paintings were transported many years after the 1978 heist, another Globe article reports.

However, the jury found him guilty of possessing stolen property.

“I expected it,” the former Watertown, Mass., practitioner told a Globe reporter afterward, outside the courtroom. But, he says, “I think we’ve got a good appeal.”

Earlier coverage:

Art Daily: “Retired Massachusetts Attorney Arrested”

Associated Press: “Trial begins in stolen art case”

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