Reputed Connecticut mobster told federal grand jury he knew nothing about Gardner Museum art heist

HARTFORD – Reputed mobster Robert V. Gentile has testified before a federal grand jury probing the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist that he does not know who stole the priceless paintings from the Boston landmark, Gentile’s attorney said today after his client pleaded guilty to drug and weapons charges.

Gentile, according to attorney A. Ryan McGuigan, was questioned by federal prosecutors for a total of 10 months during 2011 and this year about Boston area crime figures whose names have been linked to the thefts of the 13 paintings, which include works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Degas and Manet.

Gentile was also questioned before the grand jury about Robert Guarente, a Mafia figure who died in 2004 and whose widow said he provided Gentile with a stolen painting before his death, his attorney said.

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But McGuigan said Gentile provided nothing to federal officials that will solve the biggest museum theft in history. He said Gentile does not know who committed the crime nor does he know what happened to the paintings in the 22 years since the robbery.

“They were obviously not satisfied with the information that he had,’’ McGuigan said. “But unfortunately, that is all they had.’’

McGuigan spoke with reporters at US District Court here after Gentile pleaded guilty to drug and firearms charges based on the discovery of prescription drugs and six guns by federal investigators when they searched Gentile’s Manchester, Conn., home in February. The Gardner art heist was not mentioned at the hearing. Gentile will be sentenced early next year and could face three or four years in federal prison under a plea agreement.

Gentile, 76, told US District Judge Robert N. Chatigny that he was pleading guilty to six charges because he was guilty of the crimes and because he wanted to end his life without any further interference from federal law enforcement.

“I’m pleading guilty because I am guilty. I am sorry for causing this problem,’’ Gentile said. “I don’t want any more trouble.’’

Gentile, who has chronic health issues, sat in a wheelchair during the hearing. He told the judge, “I want to serve my time and get home. I don’t have many years left.’’

Guarente, a Mafia figure who died in 2004 at age 65, apparently had ties to everyone publicly identified as a person of interest in the heist, according to court records, FBI reports, and State Police documents.

The search of Gentile's home was part of an apparently renewed effort by US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, to solve the Gardner art theft, which has haunted both the museum and law enforcement.

In addition to Gentile’s house, the FBI searched the home of Anthony Carlo, a 62-year-old ex-convict living in Worcester who has a history of art theft.

The Gardner Musuem heist occurred in the early morning of March 18, 1990. Two men posing as police officers conned their way into the museum by telling the two security guards that they were responding to a report of a disturbance. The guards, who violated protocol by letting the officers in, were bound with duct tape. The thieves then spent 81 minutes taking the 13 masterworks.