MANHATTAN (CN) – Prosecutors say they have caught the gallery-goer who snatched a Salvador Dali piece one afternoon and walked out with it in a shopping bag.
In full view of security cameras on June 19, 2012, the thief had simply lifted the 1949 watercolor and gouache drawing “Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio” off a wall of the Upper East Side gallery Venus Over Manhattan.
“It was almost surreal how this theft was committed,” District Attorney Cy Vance said in a statement, a glib reference to Dali’s favored genre.
Vance’s office said Tuesday that it has identified the thief as Phivos Istavrioglou, a 29-year old Greek national, and charged him with second-degree grand larceny.
After taking hold of the drawing, valued at $150,000, Istavrioglou allegedly sneaked it out with a shopping bag.
Images of the heist appeared in print, television and Internet-based news reports across the globe, and a week later the piece turned up at JFK airport, just as suddenly as it had disappeared. It had been sent anonymously from Greece to Venus Over Manhattan in a cardboard shipping tube.
New York Police Department Commissioner Raymond Kelly said fingerprints on the piece led them Istavrioglou. Apparently, his prints were on record after boosting a Blueprint juice from a Whole Foods in Manhattan that same year.
An undercover detective lured Istavrioglou stateside by posing as a manager for an art gallery and offering to hire Istavrioglou as an art gallery consultant.
Authorities took custody of Istavrioglou as he flew into JFK airport from Milan on Feb. 16.
Vance called the “brazen heist” just the “latest in a string of cases involving theft or fraud in the art world that my office has prosecuted.”
Recent capers have included the sale of counterfeit Damien Hirst paintings and the theft of three Claude Monet paintings once acquired by Imelda Marcos, husband to the infamous former ruler of the Philippines.
Istavrioglou’s attorney, David Cohen, said bail was set at $100,000.
He is scheduled to appear in court next Tuesday. Assistant District Attorney Jordan Arnold, who oversaw the investigation, is handling the prosecution.
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