NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A house painter has been accused of stealing artwork from a Kings Point mansion and selling at least one of the pieces to a gallery in California, officials announced Monday.
Joselito Vega, 42, of Easton, Pa., faces charges of money laundering, identity theft and grand larceny.
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said Vega was hired in March 2011 to do work at the Schulhof Estate where 300 works had been collected by the deceased parents of Michael Schulhof.
Vega allegedly stole three works of art, including Le Fauteuil II (the Armchair II) by French artist Jean DuBuffet, which ended up at the Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, Calif.
“Of course you’re always disappointed when you place trust in someone and you feel that the trust is violated,” Michael Schulhof told CBS 2’s John Slattery.
The DuBuffet, which is estimated to be worth $50,000, sold at auction for $8,500, Hynes said.
“It obviously raises a red flag when you are selling a $50,000 painting for less than $10,000,” Hynes said in a statement.
Vega allegedly had the check for the sale addressed to his ex-sister-in-law and sent to a private mailbox in Brooklyn that investigators determined belonged to Vega, Hynes said. He then tricked her into setting up a bank account in her name so that she could cash the check for him, Hynes said.
Authorities said they set up a sting in the mansion last month and Vega was caught on video taking three more works, including a $10,000 Pablo Picasso etching, “Three Graces II.” He also allegedly stole a Jean DuBuffet work called “Chien” and a Yaacov Agam work called “Presence de Rythmes.”
The surveillance video shows the painter making his selections from a box, prosecutors said.
“And making his judgment on what he wanted to steal,” Hynes 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 in a statement. “He violated the trust of his employer and a former family member and he must now face the consequences of his actions.”
The recovered DuBuffet has already been sent to where it was originally destined: The Peggy Guggenhein Museum in Venice, Italy.
“It’s now something which the public itself is able to enjoy for a long period of time,” Schulhof said.
Two other stolen pieces, “Tuftonboro” by Frank Stella and “Flower” by Norman Lewis, are still missing, officials said.
Authorities said the hope is that with the indictment and publicizing the names of the stolen works, people in the art world can help locate the two works still missing.
Vega is being held on $1 million bond.
Authorities said the Brooklyn charges relate to the cashed check. Vega is facing grand larceny charges in Nassau County, where the alleged theft occurred, prosecutors said.
He could face 11 years if convicted on the Brooklyn charges and 5-to-15 in Nassau County. The sentences also could run consecutively.
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