April 20, 2011
Color Him Collared: East End Art Thief Indicted
Familiar with the works of Daniel Ridgeway-Knight? Alexander Loemann? James King? Jean Dufy? Neither is Angel Palencia, apparently. According to Suffolk County District Attorney Tom Spota, the 24-year-old Medford man sold a painting by Ridgeway-Knight valued at $140,000 for just $1500.
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Palencia was indicted on six counts of burglary and one count of grand larceny last week, bringing the investigation into a rash of East End art thefts near its denouement.
Just near, though. Detectives don't believe Palencia purloined pricey paintings from a half dozen houses without assistance. "The defendant insisted to investigators that he committed these crimes alone," Spota said, adding, "Frankly, we don't believe him."
Four area agencies worked with the DA and Suffolk County Police on the investigation. Homes were burgled, with expensive artwork boosted in Southampton and East Hampton Villages, Shelter Island and Southold. So far, the value of recovered items tops $600,000, and officials are still trying to track the owners of additional artwork they recovered from Palencia's Medford home and two upisland locations where he sold some items. Spota plans to post pics of the paintings on the DA's website. He speculated that some second homeowners may return to their houses this summer and discover the burglaries.
The thefts were perpetrated during the months of January and February this year, Spota reported during a press conference last Friday. Palencia offered a written confession, outlining his reason for burglarizing the houses and how he went about it.
In his confession Palencia said he needed rent money and remembered working at a house in Southold that could be a worthy target, about two years ago. "I had been in a house by the sound that had a lot of art on the walls," he wrote, describing the first theft in the beginning of January. He said he drove to the house, using his father-in-law's pickup truck. No one answered when he knocked on the door, so he walked the perimeter of the manse until he found an unlocked window in the back of the house. "I opened it and went into the house," he wrote.
Once inside he took "a few pictures off the walls," loaded them in the truck and left. Palencia said he kept the first paintings for about a week before showing them to an art dealer on the North Fork.
Palencia's confession next lists a Shelter Island theft at another summer residence where he'd done work as a painter "a couple of years ago." He knew where a key was hidden.
The Guatemalan native, who's lived in the US for about 10 years, gained entry to other homes in some of the East Ends plushest neighborhoods via unlocked windows and doors.
So far, detectives listed houses hit on Lily Pond Lane in East Hampton, Gin Lane and Captain's Neck Lane in Southampton, Rocky Point Road in Shelter Island, and Soundview Avenue in Southold. In Southold a silver tea service was stolen along with artwork. A stamp collection valued at $2800 was taken from the basement of one of the Rocky Point Road abodes burgled. After loading items from one house into the truck, Palencia said he then "went to this house next door. No one was home either so I forced open a window and went inside."
Paintings valued at over $200,000 were heisted from the Lily Pond Lane mansion – a home he described as "pretty big." Upon knocking on the front door, the suspect noticed the window to the right of the front door was unlocked and the storm window was partially open. "I climbed over a flower box and went through the window and into the dining room," Palencia's confession reads.
The victimized household on Captain's Neck Lane listed some $120K in artsy items among the missing. Spota noted that in some cases Palencia left behind jewelry and other paintings that were just as valuable as what he did take. Some items are still missing. Thirteen pieces were taken from locales in Southampton Village. Only five were recovered.
A North Fork art dealer, who requested anonymity, helped crack the case. Palencia allegedly approached him, looking to sell a series of artwork he claimed he'd been given by a client he'd helped clean out a basement. The dealer didn't buy Palencia's story, and when the would be art thief came back again looking to sell even more pieces, contacted an appraiser who told him the items were stolen. Southold Town Police were next on the dealer's contact list. Investigators were able to procure a recorded conversation during which the dealer invited Palencia to meet him in Mattituck. He was subsequently arrested.
Palencia directed police to two locations where he'd successfully sold stolen items. Police found another two dozen works of art at his house in Medford.
Palencia is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail. On Friday Spota said, "We believe he is in the country illegally."
The suspect's confession concludes with contrition. "I am really sorry I did this and I know that it is wrong," he wrote. "I will help police get back the paintings I took."