MANHATTAN (CN) – A man who robbed his elderly, wealthy boss of $3.2 million and an Andy Warhol silkscreen was sentenced Thursday to 10 years in prison.
The Andy Warhol piece is a silkscreen on a wooden crate, made to look like a Heinz 57 case of ketchup.
A jury convicted James Biear in November 2010 of stealing that piece as well as other artwork and $3.2 million from his former employer, Kenward Elmslie, grandson of media mogul Joseph Pulitzer.
Biear worked from 2005 to 2007 as a chauffeur and personal assistant to the “elderly millionaire,” prosecutors say. The theft occurred in July 2006 when Biear transferred approximately $3.2 million from the Elmslie’s bank account in Australia to Elmslie’s bank account in Vermont, and then to Biear’s own bank account in California.
The other stolen property included the Warhol; a playing card on paper by Marcel Duchamp; an ink drawing by Francis Picabia; a watercolor by Joe Brainard; a charcoal drawing by Alex Katz; and antique silverware.
Biear sold the Warhol, which the artist had given to Elmslie as a gift in 1964, to a New York City art collector for $220,000 with a phony letter of provenance.
Evidence at trial showed that Biear had forged a $52,000 check from Elmslie’s bank account to buy himself European vacations, expensive dinners, Tiffany silverware, jewelry and ski equipment.
He used the stolen cash to buy a home in Ossining, N.Y., antique furniture, Oriental rugs, and various other artwork. Biear filed a false insurance claim in August 2009 for a painting by a 19th century English artist that he claimed had been stolen from him, prosecutors say. After an apparent tip from Biear’s ex-wife, authorities ultimately found the piece in Biear’s attic.
Biear faces charges in Westchester for the allegedly false statements he made about the hidden painting.
U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel called Biear “a con man and a thief” at the Thursday sentencing hearing.
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