Man pleads guilty, sentenced to prison in $12-million Encino art heist

Man pleads guilty, sentenced to prison in $12-million Encino art heist
Several paintings recovered from the 2008 heist are displayed before a Dec. 19 FBI news conference in Los Angeles. Three paintings are still missing. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A 45-year-old man who tried to sell $12 million worth of stolen paintings by Marc Chagall and other noted artists to undercover FBI agents was sentenced Friday to four years and four months in prison.

The sentencing came immediately after Raul Espinoza pleaded no contest to one count of receiving stolen property and trying to sell the stolen artwork, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney's office. He also admitted that the theft involved the taking of more than $500,000.


Nine of the 12 stolen art pieces were recovered. Three works remain missing, district attorney's office spokesman Ricardo Santiago said.

Federal authorities said Espinoza tried to sell such valued artwork as Chagall's "Les Paysans" and Diego Rivera's "Mexican Peasant" for only $700,000.

He was arrested in October after he met with the undercover agents at a hotel in Brentwood, when he allegedly agreed to sell them the paintings.

The paintings, which were insured by Lloyd's of London, were stolen in 2008 from the home of an elderly couple in Encino.

They were at home, in their bedrooms, during the theft, but reported hearing nothing. Their housekeeper was grocery shopping at the time.

The housekeeper later returned to find the artwork missing. Detectives found 12 hooks minus paintings at the couple's home.

Los Angeles police Det. Don Hrycyk said at a news conference in December that the couple died shortly after the theft and the family received an insurance payment.

Meanwhile, police said their investigation led them to a man named "Darko" in Europe. He had allegedly claimed to know the man who had the stolen art. Detectives said that man turned out to be Espinoza.

The oldest painting recovered was "Fin de Seance," by German American painter Lyonel Feininger, which dates to 1910.

Federal authorities have offered a $25,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the remaining missing art.

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