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Painter Charged in Stolen Art Case

Thursday, May 9, 2013

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A house painter faces more than a decade behind bars for his expensive taste in art.

Joselito Vega, 42, of Easton, PA, has been indicted on charges of money laundering, identify theft and grand larceny as part of a stolen art scheme, according to authorities in New York. A videotaped sting operation catching Vega in the act led to his arrest.

Officials allege that Vega stole six pieces of art, including a Pablo Picasso etching valued at $10,000, from the Schulhof Estate in Kings Point, NY.

House painter Joselito Vega is accused of taking six pieces of artwork from a house in Kings Point, NY. Video footage released by prosecutors shows him looking through a box full of art and taking three pieces, including a Picasso.

The Schulhof Estate houses a well-known private art collection of post-war and contemporary European and American art, which includes more than 300 pieces worth millions of dollars, according to prosecutors.

First Three Missing Works

Three of those works went missing in March 2011 after Vega, a former employee of Zimmer Painting Inc., was hired to do some painting at the mansion. An inventory done at the estate uncovered the missing pieces and spurred the investigation a year later.

Investigators discovered that one of the missing paintings, Jean DuBuffet’s Armchair II, worth $50,000, had been put up for auction in Oakland, CA. The painting sold for $8,500 in September 2011. The other two paintings, which are still missing, are Tuftonboro by Frank Stella and Flower by Norman Lewis. 

In selling the DuBuffet painting to a buyer in Monaco, Vega allegedly used the identity of his ex-sister-in-law without her knowledge. 

Long Island News 12

Vega's attorney says the painter "couldn’t know much about art" because he allegedly sold a $50,000 painting for just $10,000.

Throughout interactions between Vega and an Oakland art gallery, Vega used his ex-relative’s name and had the check for the sale made payable to her and sent to a private mailbox that belonged to Vega under the alias “Danny Vega,” according to prosecutors.

Further, Vega was said to have asked his ex-sister-in-law to set up a bank account in her name so that she could cash the check for him, using the excuse that he received Social Security benefits and did not want to lose the benefits if the state found out that he received that sum of money.  

Art Theft on Video

Prosecutors then decided to set up a sting operation to see if Vega might continue his alleged stolen art scheme.

On April 29, 2013, he was once again hired to complete a paint job at the estate in Kings Point.

A box full of art was strategically placed in the home, and hidden cameras were set up. 

Vega was caught on the video going through the box of art, taking three works, including a $10,000 Pablo Picasso etching, Three Graces II. He also allegedly stole another Dubuffet piece called Chien and a Yaacov Agam work called Presence de Rythmes

After he made his selections and took them to his vehicle, he was picked up by authorities. The video footage was shown to reporters at a news conference Monday (May 6).

Violated Trust

“The Schulhof Estate spent decades gathering and protecting hundreds of pieces of artwork, yet where others saw incredible beauty in these paintings, Joselito Vega only saw the opportunity to make a quick buck,” said Kathleen M. Rice, the Nassau County district attorney.

Missing works
Kings County District Attorney's Office

The prosecutors say that two of the stolen works of art remain missing.

“He violated the trust of his employer and a former family member, and he must now face the consequences of his actions,” said Rice.

Prosecutors have indicted Vega on charges of money laundering, identity theft and grand larceny in Brooklyn. He faces 11 years in prison if  convicted on those charges. He was also charged with grand larceny in Nassau County, where the alleged theft occured. That charge carries a term of five to 15 years.

The sentences could run consecutively, the prosecutors said.

In total, the six pieces of art were valued at more than $100,000, the prosecutors said.

'Couldn't Know Much About Art'

Vega’s attorney told the New York Times that Vega denies the charges against him, adding that the videotape was poor evidence because prosecutors had unfairly “laid a trap.”

S. Ken Jones reportedly said “his client was a hard-working man with 20 years’ experience as a house painter who ‘couldn’t know much about art’ because he is accused of selling a painting ‘he was alleged to have stolen for $10,000 when he should have sold it for $50,000.’”

Vega is being held on $1 million bond following his arrest, prosecutors said.


Tagged categories: Artists; Color + Design; Contractors; Ethics; Laws and litigation; Painters

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