LAPD Recovers Nine Stolen Artworks Worth Millions

Three paintings are still circulating on the black market.

The Los Angeles Police Department and the FBI are on the brink of solving one of the most significant art robberies in LA history.

According to documents provided to the Los Angeles Times, a man was arrested this fall in an undercover sting operation at a West Los Angeles hotel. He was trying to sell nine paintings, which, alongside three other works, had been stolen from a collector’s home in the wealthy neighborhood of Encino in 2008.

Collectively valued at $10 million, the recovered paintings include unnamed works by Chaïm Soutine and Emil Nolde, Marc Chagall’s Les Paysans, and Diego Rivera’s Mexican Peasants.

The man taken into custody has since been identified as one Raul Espinoza and was hoping to get $700,000 for the works.

For almost six years, police uncovered very few leads in the case. Thieves entered the owner’s property on August 24, 2008 while the housekeeper was out shopping. The collectors were inside in their bedroom, but they didn’t hear anything.

Real progress started this past September, when Detective Donald Hrycyk of the LAPD’s Art Theft Detail, was tipped off about a man in Europe, known as “Darko,” who was seeking buyers for the stolen paintings.

In a search warrant quoted by the Los Angeles Times, Hrycyk wrote that “[Darko] indicated that he was merely a middleman for an unknown person in possession of the art in California.”

This led to Espinoza’s arrest. He has been charged with one count of receiving stolen property. He pleaded not guilty in October and is currently being held at the Pitchess Detention Center.

Three paintings are still missing. But Hrycyk believes that a search of Espinza’s phone could reveal the identity of the thieves involved in the 2008 burglary.

Hrycyk has been on the LADP’s Art Theft Detail—the only unit of its kind in the country—for twenty years. He is the only member of the squad, which has been responsible for the recovery of over $107 million worth of art (see “Meet Don Hrycyk, the LAPD’s Veteran Art Detective”).

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