Bay Ridge

Operation ‘to catch a thief’ catches art theft on video

May 6, 2013 Kings County District Attorney's Office
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Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen M. Rice on Monday announced the indictment of Joselito Vega, 42, for money laundering as part of a stolen art scheme.

Vega, from Eastern Pennsylvania, allegedly stole the paintings from a Kings Point, Long Island, estate that he was hired to paint and selling at least one of them.  Then, he laundered the money he received by getting his ex-sister-in-law to cash the check in Brooklyn, according to the charges.  

Vega was indicted in the Brooklyn case on charges of money laundering, identity theft and grand larceny. In Nassau County, Vega faces separate charges of grand larceny.

Hynes said, “The defendant tried to launder the proceeds from the stolen art in Brooklyn.  Investigators were able to track down one of the works in an Oakland art gallery.  It obviously raises a red flag when you are selling a $50,000 painting for less than $10,000.”

“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 March 2011, Vega was working for Zimmer Painting, Inc, and was assigned to a job at the Schulhof Estate in Kings Point.  The Schulhof Collection includes more than 300 works of art.  Approximately one year later, when the Schulhof Estate performed an inventory, they realized that three works were missing.

An investigation, dubbed Operation To Catch a Thief, found that one painting was given to the Clars Auction Gallery in Oakland, Calif., to sell. Throughout the interactions between the defendant and the art gallery, he used his ex-sister-in-law’s name without her knowledge, and had the check for the sale of the work addressed to her and sent to a private mailbox in Bay Ridge, according to the DA’s Office.  

Further investigation revealed that the Bay Ridge mailbox belonged to Vega under the name Danny Vega.

Vega then asked his ex-sister-in-law to set up a bank account in her name so that she could cash the check for him. He used the excuse that he receives Social Security benefits and did not want to lose the benefits if the state found out that he received that sum of money.

Detectives from the Kings County District Attorney’s Office set up a sting operation to catch him in the act.  On April 29, Vega was hired to do another job at the estate in Kings Point. Works of art were placed in the home, and hidden cameras were set up.  Vega was caught on video taking three works, including a $10,000 Pablo Picasso etching, “Three Graces II.”

He was soon arrested by detective investigators.  In total, the six paintings that Vega is alleged to have stolen are worth over $100,000.

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