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Meet Our New Art Crime Team

Protecting National Treasures
Meet Our New Art Crime Team

03/02/05

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It’s a small but ugly criminal specialty: trafficking in stolen works of art and priceless national treasures. And it’s getting bigger, with losses running as high as $8 billion a year.

In fact, we’ve brought a number of cases to your attention over the past year:

...The Case of the Eight Ancient Iraqi Seals
...The Case of the Master Forger
...The Case of the Missing Civil War Sword

Even
...The Case of the Elvis-A-Rama Museum Heist

So last year our specialists sat down and asked themselves how they might centralize investigations and maximize FBI resources.

Upshot—meet our new art crime team: a group of eight agents working in major art markets around the country—New York, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Salt Lake City. The team is supported by two assistant U.S. attorneys and several FBI analysts.

Its focus? Breaking up crime rings that steal and smuggle priceless works of art, loot archaeological sites, and churn out fakes and forgeries.

What makes it so good?

1. Expertise. To run an art-theft case, you’ve got to know a Monet from a Manet, a Rembrandt from a Rubens. You’ve got to know the dealers, appraisers, collectors, curators, and auction houses. You’ve got to be well versed in the markets and the unique laws that apply. Now we have eight art-loving agents who are dedicated to these specialized investigations.

2. Partnerships. When domestic and international requests for help come into HQ, they go straight to an agent who knows exactly who to contact in the local art communities, working groups, and law enforcement agencies.

3. Flexibility and speed, to respond instantly to tips and leads, in each agent’s own territory or wherever in the world the case might lead.

4. A developing intelligence base. Of course.

Lynn Richardson, FBI National Art Theft program, puts it this way: “Now we’ve got a team of agents nationwide that knows its stuff and can be deployed at a moment’s notice—and that’s going to make a world of difference in protecting national treasures.”

Link: FBI Art Theft Program