Art Thefts Fed Drug Habit, State Says

     TACOMA (CN) – A warehouse worker for glass artist Dale Chihuly’s company stole $3 million worth of art to support his drug habit, prosecutors say.
     Christopher Robert Kaul was charged Tuesday in Pierce County with first degree theft and trafficking stolen property in the first degree.
     Chihuly’s company said about 90 pieces, worth $3,082,000, were missing from its Tacoma warehouse, according to prosecutors’ June 2 declaration of probable cause.
     “We’ve seen this story before – an employee is hooked on drugs and steals from his boss,” Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said in a statement. “The twist here is the boss is a world famous artist.”
     Kaul, 38, worked at the Chihuly glass warehouse in Tacoma from March 2010 until he was fired in June 2013.
     Chihuly, 73, a native of Tacoma, is renowned for his large blown glass sculptures, which are featured in art museums around the world.
     The thefts were detected in September 2014, when an appraiser contacted Chihuly employees about three works brought in for appraisal, according to the probable cause statement.
     The employees confirmed they were Chihuly’s works, and were missing from the warehouse. Further investigation showed that about 90 pieces were missing.
     Chihuly reported the theft and the FBI took over the investigation.
     Kaul told the FBI that while he worked for Chihuly “he was fighting a pill addiction and was not going to work on a regular basis and was eventually fired because of this problem,” according to the probable cause statement.
     He said he started stealing in October 2012, after he finished a rehab treatment and relapsed. He told the FBI that he would take items that he believed would go unnoticed … then sell them or trade them for drugs to support his habit,” the probable cause statement says.
     It adds: “The FBI noted that the organization at the warehouse was horrible and inventory control was lax.”
     Kaul told the people to whom he sold the pieces that he “was able to get an employee discount on items.”
     Kaul was charged by warrant and has not been arrested. No contact information or attorney on record is listed for him in court documents. He is to be arraigned on June 15 in Tacoma.
     Prosecutors said Chihuly’s company hired a private investigator who has recovered nearly half of the stolen art from buyers.

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