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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Serial Swindler Gets 6 Years for Corot Theft

MANHATTAN (CN) - In a furious sentencing hearing Monday, a federal judge doubled the government's suggested jail time for an 11-time-convicted felon who scammed a man out of Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot's "Portrait of a Girl."

"My favorite painting in the world is by Corot," U.S. District Judge Colleen McMahon said. "It hangs at The Frick."

She later pronounced the artist's full name in an impeccable French accent.

Thomas Doyle was charged in September 2010 with fraud in connection to the missing painting

Doyle promised Gary Fitzgerald, a collector living in Japan, to buy the painting for $1.1 million, in exchange for $880,000. Fitzgerald, in turn, would own 80 percent of the painting, and Doyle said he would pay $220,000 for a 20 percent share.

Doyle also claimed that he had a buyer who would pay $1.7 million for the painting.

But Doyle actually bought the piece for $775,000, and there was no second buyer, prosecutors said.

"After Doyle acquired the Corot painting, a co-conspirator stored it in a storage facility in Manhattan," the U.S. Attorney's Office said. "Doyle's co-conspirator later removed it without authorization."

Prosecutors dropped the mail-fraud charge in exchange for Doyle's plea of guilty to a wire fraud count in July. They recommended a three-year jail sentence, far below the 20-year maximum penalty.

McMahon indicated early on during the hour-long sentencing hearing that she would not be "shackled" by the recommended guidelines.

"Not my agreement," she said, before imposing a six-year sentence and $880,000 in restitution.

McMahon, who enunciates her words in a tone of booming indignation, pointed out that the art collector Doyle swindled is now in dire financial straits, with his mandatory retirement looming.

"He has a painting," Doyle's defense attorney Donald Dennis Duboulay said, downplaying Fitzgerald's destitution.

McMahon corrected: "No, the government has a painting."

In his defense, Doyle insisted that he tried to enter a legitimate deal before making a "bad mistake."

"Bottom line, I didn't set out to do anything other than make money with this gentleman," Doyle told the court, his pallid skin accented by a khaki prison jumpsuit.

McMahon bristled at the remark.

"Explain why a lie is an honest deal," she demanded.

"It started off honestly and went wrong," Doyle said. "What I did to Mr. Fitzgerald, it started out as a buyer-seller relationship. ... I let my greed get in the way of my better judgment."

After blaming the crime partly on his alcoholism, he made some self-effacing remarks and concluded, "I don't want to darken these doors again."

McMahon said she would not have been surprised if he rehearsed that metaphor for other federal judges.

"I bet you've said that before, Mr. Doyle," she said. "I bet you have."

Noting that there were reporters in the room, McMahon read Doyle's rap sheet into the record, including his convictions for stealing a BMW, posing as a furrier to swipe a woman's mink coat for "cleaning," impersonating a Secret Service agent and repeatedly violating probation.

"I can't ignore that this man has been on a non-stop crime spree since he was 20 years old," she concluded.

During this dressing-down, Doyle's pale face whitened, and he cracked his knuckles behind his back.

"Society needs to be protected from you," McMahon continued. "You are a predator."

Minutes before imposing her sentence, she announced, "I'm going to be an old-fashioned judge," and "not shackled by any guidelines."

In addition to his sentence, Doyle faces three years of supervised release. McMahon warned of stiff consequences if Doyle violates probation again.

"Mr. Doyle, in case there's any doubt as to what my predisposition would be, it would be very strong to send you back to jail," she said.

She then wished the U.S. Marshals luck in getting a good price for the painting.

"For Mr. Fitzgerald's sake, I hope the market for minor Corot paintings goes up," she quipped, also hoping that the Marshals had a "special talent for auctioneering."

As the hearing finished, Doyle was restrained in metal handcuffs before being led to prison.

His attorney Duboulay revealed that he would appeal the sentence, which he acknowledged was "a bit more than we expected."

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