Pa. house painter stole $100K in art from NYC-area estate, police say

May 7, 2013 10:17:10 AM PDT
A Pennsylvania man was being held on $1 million bond following his arrest in the theft of six artworks, including an etching by Pablo Picasso from a suburban New York City estate, prosecutors announced Monday.

Joselito Vega, 42, of Easton, Pa., was indicted Monday on money laundering, identity theft and other charges linked to the alleged thefts, according to a joint press release from Charles Hynes and Kathleen Rice, district attorneys in Brooklyn and Nassau County, respectively.

Prosecutors said Vega was hired in March 2011 to work as a house painter at the Schulhof Estate in Kings Point, N.Y., just east of New York City. The estate features 300 works of art, featuring post-war and contemporary European and American artists.

About a year after Vega began working there, an inventory check found that three paintings were missing.

Investigators later determined one of the missing paintings - "Le Fauteuil II," by French artist Jean Dubuffet and estimated to be worth $50,000 - was sold for $8,500 by an art gallery in Oakland, Calif., prosecutors said. They then uncovered evidence that Vega allegedly had his ex-sister-in-law set up a bank account in Brooklyn to cash the check from that sale.

Last month, detectives set up a sting at the estate and allegedly captured Vega on video stealing three other works, including the Picasso etching "Three Graces II."

In all, prosecutors said the six works were valued at $100,000. Two from the initial theft have yet to be recovered, prosecutors said.

"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," Rice said.

Authorities said the Brooklyn charges relate to the cashed check. Vega is facing grand larceny charges in Nassau County, where the alleged theft occurred.

Vega could face 11 years if convicted on the Brooklyn charges and 5-to-15 in Nassau County; the sentences also could run consecutively. A listing for Vega's attorney was not immediately available.