Art investigators preserve country’s heritage

The Baltimore Sun on October 30, 2011 released the following:

“By Tricia Bishop

BALTIMORE When Paul Brachfeld heard about the heist of historic documents in Baltimore this summer, the National Archives inspector general acted quickly.

First, he checked his records to see if the suspects – Barry Landau, a well-known collector, and his young friend, Jason Savedoff – had visited his facilities.

They had.

Next, he reached out to federal investigators and offered the services of his in-house investigative group.

The Archival Recovery Team – ART, for short – is now sorting through more than 10,000 items removed from Landau’s Manhattan apartment. Their discoveries so far include treasures that trace back to Napoleon, Newton and Beethoven.

“The vast preponderance of those are not necessarily from my institution,” Brachfeld said. “But if not me and my office, who would do this work?”

Brachfeld’s full-time team, made up of four to five people, is one of just a few investigative groups in the United States that focus on the recovery of cultural property.

America is the largest consumer of artwork in the world, with a 40 percent share of the $200 billion global industry. It’s also the scene of nearly half of the illegal art trade estimated to be worth another $7 billion worldwide.

Yet other countries pay far more attention to art fraud. Italy has several hundred detectives on its Carabinieri Art Squad, and Greece, France, Germany and Belgium all have national units working the detail.

In contrast, the FBI’s Art Crime Team is made up of one archaeologist and 13 agents, who work the beat on the side. And the Los Angeles Police Department’s Art Theft Detail consists of just one investigator, a man who is delaying retirement because he’s afraid the division will die if he leaves without a trained successor.

Art theft isn’t new

Art theft is roughly as old as art itself, going back millennia to the looters and opportunists who robbed castles and tombs. The Bible describes such thefts, as do the history books, which note plunderings by Vikings, Nazis and those who raided Iraq’s National Museum after U.S.-led forces took Baghdad in 2003.

Today, pilfering art and antiquities is the new bank robbery, according to Robert Goldman, a former federal prosecutor and history major who specializes in cultural property cases.

“We all know banks have no money anymore,” Goldman said. “People watch ‘Antiques Roadshow’ and ‘Pawn Stars’ and all these other shows that are on cable, and everybody now believes that there’s incredible value in old stuff.”

Landau, 63, and Savedoff, 24, were indicted in July on federal charges alleging they stole dozens of historic texts signed by American presidents and visionaries from three archives in Maryland and New York.

But prosecutors claimed in court hearings that the scheme is much larger, spanning many years and involving thousands of items taken from at least a dozen locations on both sides of the Atlantic.”

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Douglas McNabb – McNabb Associates, P.C.’s
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