Nine works of art stolen six years ago in one of the largest art heists in L.A. history have been recovered by investigators from the Los Angeles Police Department and the FBI, it was reported today.
After an undercover operation at a West Los Angeles hotel in October, federal authorities detained Raul Espinoza, 45, who tried to sell the paintings — which are valued at $10 million — for $700,000 cash, according to the Los Angeles Times, whose reporting was based on court documents it reported obtaining .
The nine works recovered were among the dozen stolen from an Encino home on the morning of Aug. 24, 2008, when a thief or thieves entered a wealthy real estate investor’s home through the unlocked kitchen door and made off with works that included Marc Chagall’s “Les Paysans,” and Diego Rivera’s “Mexican Peasant,” The Times reported.
The case grew cold until Sept. 2, 2014, when Detective Donald Hrycyk of the LAPD’s art theft detail was tipped off to a man in Europe known as “Darko” who was soliciting buyers for the stolen works, according to the newspaper.
Darko “indicated that he was merely a middleman for an unknown person in possession of the art in California,” Hrycyk wrote in a search warrant obtained by The Times.
The FBI and LAPD set up an undercover operation, and federal authorities arrested Espinoza, who was later transferred to police custody, the newspaper reported.
Espinoza has been charged with one count of receiving stolen property. He pleaded not guilty on Oct. 27, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office told The Times. He’s being held at the Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic in lieu of $5 million bail.
Three of the stolen paintings remained missing as of Dec. 1.