We owe a small debt of gratitude to TheArtLawBlog for pointing out this long story about former FBI agent Robert Wittman and a French museum robbery that wound up with arrests in South Florida. We know why art is stolen. It it perceived to have high value and often resides in places that present easy opportunities to thieves. But the importance of the story is the mis-match between the thieves’ expectations and the actual value stolen art receives on the black market. Here’s Michael J. Mooney’s illustration of the problem:
Most art is unloaded to a dirty broker for about 5 percent of its full value. The broker then deals the item to a middleman for about 10 percent. The middleman must be willing to hold onto it for a while. It’s often a decade or more before an item can be sold at a small, clandestine auction, where it might be purchased by a dirty dealer for 50 percent of its original value. When enough time has passed and the trail of ownership can be sufficiently obfuscated — sometimes generations later — a dealer can sell the work at an auction where he can reintroduce the piece at full price to collectors.
The Trail From a $6 Million French Art Heist Ends in Suburban South Florida (Broward-Palm Beach News)