BOSTON, MA -- FBI officials announced Monday they know who committed one of the biggest art heists in history, but they still need the public's help to locate the 13 missing pieces of art.
“The FBI believes with a high degree of confidence in the years after the theft the art was transported to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region and some of the art was taken to Philadelphia where it was offered for sale by those responsible for the theft,” said Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the Boston FBI office. “With that same confidence we have identified the thieves who are members of a criminal organization with a base in the mid-Atlantic states and New England.”
Officials believe the art was smuggled into Connecticut and eventually made its way into Philadelphia. At that point, the trail for the missing masterpieces goes cold. The FBI believes an organized-crime organization based in the mid-Atlantic states coordinated the crime.
Because the investigation is still ongoing, the FBI noted they could not release further details into the identities of the suspects.
FBI officials also noted that the statute of limitations has passed on the original crime, the thefts of the paintings, but there is still potential criminal liability for concealing the paintings or possessing stolen property. However, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz noted that immunity is on the table for anyone who contributes information leading to the discovery of the paintings.
To help keep the public in the process, the bureau launched a new Gardner heist website. The site features sketches of the thieves, images of the lost art, background on the crime and information for anyone who want to contact the FBI with new information about the crime.
Monday was the 23rd anniversary of the heist, which took place in 1990. According to the Museum's own history of the theft, the robbers dressed as police officers and asked a security guard to let them in.
"Once inside, the thieves asked that the guard come around from behind the desk, claiming that they recognized him and that there was a warrant out for his arrest. The guard walked away from the desk and away from the only alarm button," wrote the museum on its website.
The thieves then had the guard, Richard Abath, call the second guard on duty and the two were separated and bound.
The thieves took 13 pieces of art, including works by Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Govaert Flinck, Edgar Degas and Edouard Manet.
In recent months, however, the security guard, once thought a hapless victim, has come under closer scrutiny, according to The Boston Globe. Richard Abath was found bound by duct tape and handcuffs in the aftermath of the robbery.
"Why, they ask, were Abath’s footsteps the only ones picked up on motion detectors in a first floor gallery where one of the stolen paintings, by French impressionist Edouard Manet, was taken? And why did he open the side entrance to the museum minutes before the robbers rang the buzzer to get in? Was he signaling to them that he was prepared for the robbery to begin?" wrote Globe reporter Stephen Kurkjian in a March 9 article.
Abath maintained his innocence to the Globe and in a manuscript he's written. He pointed to two separate lie detector tests as proof he was telling the truth in the case.
The Gardner theft was back in the news last year when a reputed Connecticut mobster's home was searched for weapons and the missing artwork. Federal officers used ground-penetrating radar to search for items in Richard Gentile's backyard, but came up empty.
The museum has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the return of the lost artwork. Several media outlets have placed the value of the lost art at $500 million.
Anyone with information about the artwork can call the FBI at 1-800-CALL FBI (1-800-225-5324) or contact the museum directly.