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2 Stolen Paintings Found in Cleveland

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Federal agents in Cleveland have recovered two paintings, one by Pablo Picasso and one by Claude Monet, reported stolen in 1992 from the Brentwood home of Steven G. Cooperman, a now-retired ophthalmologist.

Investigators found Picasso’s 1932 “Nude Before a Mirror” and Monet’s 1882 “Customs Officer’s Cabin at Pourville” wrapped in cardboard in a rented storage locker in a Cleveland suburb Feb. 2, said Special Agent Robert L. Hawk.

“They were in great condition,” Hawk said.

He declined to say who had rented the storage locker or to elaborate on the case, saying that a joint investigation by the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department was continuing. Authorities have not filed any charges in the case.

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The theft first drew attention from Cleveland-area authorities in August 1996, when police in Rocky River, Ohio, responded to a domestic violence call and found a woman who said her companion, entertainment lawyer James J. Little, was in possession of paintings stolen from California.

Little had worked for a Santa Monica firm where he did legal work for Cooperman in the early 1990s, said his former employer, who asked not to be identified. Little, who has moved to Cleveland, could not be reached for comment.

Cooperman, a noted collector of Impressionist art, has said he was on vacation in New Jersey when someone burglarized his Brentwood home and stole the paintings in the summer of 1992. He has since moved to Connecticut and could not be reached for comment.

His lawyer, Richard Purtich, said: “I’m reasonably certain he hasn’t been contacted by any authorities.”

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The theft was reported a few months after Cooperman insured the two paintings for $12.5 million, said Alan R. Jampol, an attorney who represented the two companies that issued the insurance policy. Police found that the Coopermans’ burglar alarm had not been tripped, and that there were no signs of a break-in.

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“You had a house full of artwork. The Monet was in an upper-floor bedroom. The Picasso was in a downstairs study,” Jampol said. “I don’t know whether they had an art appraiser do the theft, but somebody knew what he was coming for.”

Jampol said the paintings were insured for three or four times their actual worth. The two insurance companies sued Cooperman for fraud and settled out of court, he said. As part of the settlement, the companies won title to the artworks, and are expected to take possession of them once law enforcement authorities are finished with them, he added.

“We are delighted they have been recovered,” said Anna Kisluk, director of the International Foundation for Art Research’s Art Loss Register, where the insurance companies had posted a $250,000 reward for the paintings. “They are certainly works by important and well-known masters. Any time a work is recovered, it gives hope to others.”

Records show Cooperman, who ran the Cooperman Eye Center in Beverly Hills’ “Golden Triangle” medical district, is no stranger to legal proceedings. In 1988, the state medical board accused him of unprofessional conduct, including performing unnecessary surgeries on the eyes of three patients in 1980, 1984 and 1987. As state authorities were threatening to revoke his license, he agreed to let it expire.

And in 1994, Paul Revere Life Insurance Co. of Massachusetts won a judgment against him after alleging that he received $58,000 a month from 18 disability insurance policies from 15 different companies without having revealed his history of heart disease or the existence of the other policies.


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