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Gangsters with Taste: Robert Gentile and the Notorious 1990 Boston Art Heist

Reputed mobster Robert Gentile was denied bail in federal court yesterday, partly in the hopes that he may have information about one of the 20th century’s most infamous art heists. Gentile was being held in a Rhode Island prison for selling prescription drugs. At a hearing in U.S. District Court in Hartford, Connecticut on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham told the court that federal authorities had reason to suspect that Gentile was involved in or had knowledge about a notoriously unsolved art theft in 1990, in which thirteen works of art were taken from Boston’s Isabella Gardner Stewart Museum.

The details of the heist resemble a movie plot. The theft involved thieves disguised as police officers, museum guards bound with duct tape, and the seamless removal of hundreds of millions of dollars of masterpieces, including Vermeer, Rembrandt, Manet, and Degas. The crime has remained a mystery for years.

But now, the FBI believes that Gentile may have been involved or have knowledge of the heist. Authorities believe that Gentile was involved in a group of thieves in the early and mid-1990s, who could have been responsible for or known about the theft. Also, Philadelphia mafia family’s Capo Robert Luisi–who was arrested a decade ago–told investigators that Gentile and the members of his crew were responsible for several elaborate robberies, including a scheme in which they raided armored trucks transporting cash from Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort Casino.
A. Ryan McGuigan, Gentile’s lawyer, pleaded with the court to release the ailing mobster, who is 75-years-old and walks with a cane. McGuigan claimed that Gentile was being mistreated in the hopes that he will divulge information he does not possess. “What is happening… is that the government is asking to set a punitive bond, to keep him uncomfortable, to torture him.” McGuigan asked the court not to punish a “sick old man.”

Nevertheless, District Judge Robert Chatigny denied the mobster bail, saying he was too dangerous to be released.