Major L.A. art heist: 3 paintings still missing, man in custody

Nine paintings stolen in 2008 in one of the biggest art heists in Los Angeles history were displayed Friday as authorities solicited help in locating three more paintings that have yet to be recovered.

A joint investigation by art crime units at the Los Angeles Police Department and FBI, spurred by an overseas tip, allegedly led authorities to a person who was trying to fence the stolen art, valued at over $12 million.

Raul Espinoza, 45, was arrested in October after meeting with undercover agents at a hotel in Brentwood, not far from the J. Paul Getty Museum. Espinoza was charged with receiving stolen property.

The paintings were originally taken from the Encino home of an elderly couple. Both the husband and wife died shortly after the theft, LAPD Det. Don Hrycyk said at a news conference Friday.


The artworks were insured by Lloyd's of London, according to a search warrant, and authorities said the family received an insurance payment.

Hrycyk said 12 empty hooks for frames were found at the crime scene on Aug. 24, 2008. He did not offer details on the three paintings that authorities have yet to locate, citing the active nature of the investigation.

"It would be very difficult," to sell the stolen paintings on the black market, Hrycyk said. "That's why these crimes don't make any sense."

Bill Lewis, FBI assistant director in charge of the Los Angeles office, said he hoped the news conference would encourage people with more information to come forward. There is a $25,000 reward for information leading to the still-missing artworks.

The insurance company originally offered a $200,000 reward, Lewis said, which led investigators to a man named "Darko" in an undisclosed European country.

Darko allegedly indicated that he could put potential buyers in touch with a man in California who possessed the stolen art. Soon after, detectives said they arranged to meet with a man who turned out to be Espinoza.

The recovered paintings include two works by Chaim Soutine, a Russian impressionist painter. The oldest painting recovered, "Fin de Seance," by German American painter Lyonel Feininger, dates back to 1910.

"The rich history recovered cannot be overstated," Lewis said.

Lewis said some of the nine paintings were slightly worn and others were missing the original frames, but all were largely intact when recovered.

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