Los Angeles Art Thief Raul Espinoza Sentenced to Four Years

He tried to sell expressionist art worth $23 million for $700,000.

These paintings were stolen by Raul Espinoza, and were displayed during a press conference held by the FBI following their recover. Screengrab courtesy of the BBC.

Raul Espinoza, an art thief that tried to peddle a number of stolen expressionist masterpieces—including paintings by Marc Chagall and Arshile Gorky—well below their market value, has been sentenced to four years in prison, Associated Press reports. Espinoza, who has prior burglary convictions, pleaded no contest to one count of receiving stolen property.

Espinoza was arrested last October during an FBI sting operation carried out in a West Los Angeles hotel, where he was trying to sell nine paintings (see LAPD Recovers Nine Stolen Artworks Worth Millions). Espinoza was asking $700,000 for works he claimed were worth $5 million. After his arrest, however, the paintings have been valued at $23 million, according to a spokesman for the Los Angeles district attorney.

The nine paintings, alongside three other works, were taken back in 2008 from the home of an elderly couple, Anton and Susan Roland, located in the wealthy LA neighborhood of Encino. The art was stolen in broad daylight, while the couple were resting in their bedroom. Their caretaker had gone to the grocery store, leaving a side door unlocked. When she returned less than an hour later, the paintings were gone.

The whereabouts of the dozen modern masterpieces remained a mystery for some six years. But in September 2014, a detective from the Los Angeles police received information about a person in Europe who was trying to sell the missing works.

Marc Chagall, <em>Les Paysans</em>. The painting was stolen by Raul Espinoza, but has been recovered. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Marc Chagall, Les Paysans. The painting was stolen by Raul Espinoza, but has been recovered. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Police Department.

During the undercover operation that led to Espinoza’s arrest, officers recovered nine of the 12 stolen artworks. In December 2014, CNN published a list of the recovered paintings, which included La Femme en Rouge (1926) by Chaim Soutine, Figur mit Hund (1912) by Emil Nolde, Le Paysans (1976) by Marc Chagall, Cubist Still Life (1928-29) by Arshile Gorky, Mexican Peasant (1938) by Diego Rivera, and Blue Bottle (1947) by Hans Hofmann. As three works still remain missing, the FBI is continuing the investigation, and are offering a $25,000 cash reward for information leading to their whereabouts.

The Rolands passed before the paintings were recovered. Anton died shortly after the heist, while Susan passed away in 2014.

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