(CN) – As 2015 draws to a close, the FBI’s New York-based Art Crime Team says it has returned a record number of art and cultural items to their rightful owners in the second half of the year, and hope its success will inspire the public come forward with ever-more tips.
The FBI established the Art Crime Team in 2004, and it is currently composed of 16 agents, each of whom are responsible for addressing art and cultural crime cases in an assigned geographical area.
Since its inception, the team has recovered more than 2,650 items valued at over $150 million.
Recent examples of the team’s success include the recovery and return of a Chilean tapestry, the “Bark Washington” painting, and the “Ames” Stradivarius.
The Chilean tapestry known as “The Ambassadors of Rome Offering the Throne to Numa Pompilio” was turned over to the owner’s attorney in September.
The tapestry had been stolen from the owner’s residence in Santiago, Chile, in November 2006, and the theft was reported to INTERPOL Washington. The tapestry was recovered when it was placed for auction in New York in 2014.
INTERPOL Washington requested the assistance of the FBI’s New York Art Crime Team on behalf of the Santiago Police to take custody of the tapestry. The case remains open with the Santiago Police. There were no charges filed against the parties attempting to auction the tapestry.
The “Bark Washington” painting was returned to its rightful, the Oysterponds Historical Society in Orient, N.Y., in September.
The painting, along with the Jennie French Potter painting and two whale busks, were stolen in March 2001. The return of the Bark Washington painting was made possible by an individual who bought the painting at an antique shop in East Marion, N.Y. in 2001 for a few hundred dollars.
The individual researched the painting on the FBI’s Stolen Art Database and discovered it was stolen. He then contacted the FBI, generously agreeing to return it to the rightful owner. The thief was never caught, and the case remains open.
A 1734 Stradivarius violin, the “Ames” Stradivarius, was returned in August to the heirs of deceased violinist Roman Totenberg.
The violin was stolen from Totenberg in 1980, along with two antique bows, following a concert in the Longy School of Music in Cambridge, Mass. It was recovered by the FBI’s New York Art Crime Team in June 2015. The bows are still missing, and the FBI case remains open.
The FBI continues to solicit the public’s help on these and other cases. It asks anyone wishing to offer a tip about a stolen piece of artwork or cultural item to call the FBI Art Crime Team at (212) 384-1000 or visit its webpage at https://tips.fbi.gov. Tipsters can remain anonymous.
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