As usual, I have questions. But first, the update, courtesy of the Associated Press and the TOLEDO BLADE:
NEWARK, N.J. — A truck driver accused of stealing a Goya painting from an unattended transport truck, then claiming he found it in his basement, pleaded guilty today.
Steven Lee Olson of Carlstadt pleaded to conspiracy to commit theft under a deal with federal prosecutors. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of $250,000 under the reduced charge.
Olson’s neighbor, Roman Szurko, pleaded guilty Tuesday to the same charge, prosecutors said.
Olson was charged in October with stealing “Children with a Cart,” a 1778 painting by famed Spanish artist Francisco de Goya.
The painting, insured for $1 million, was on its way to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City from the Toledo Museum of Art in November 2006. It was stolen as the transport drivers spent the night at a motel in Bartonsville, Pa. They discovered the next morning that the painting was gone.
Within days, Olson contacted federal authorities through an attorney to say he had found the painting in his basement.
After a lengthy investigation, authorities concluded that Olson, a self-employed truck driver, had lifted the piece himself.
Olson told U.S. District Judge Dennis M. Cavanaugh that the $50,000 reward money wasn’t the reason he called authorities.
“I really wanted to get rid of it,” Olson said.
His attorney, Joe Ferrante, said his client and Szurko didn’t know what they had until they read the shipping documents.
“When they got it, they realized it was more than they could handle,” he said.
Olson said he didn’t destroy the painting because “it kind of grew on me.”
He was charged with theft of an object of cultural heritage from a museum, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. His plea deal gave him a reduced charge and sentence. Sentencing is expected in March.
The painting was returned undamaged to the Toledo museum. In February, the museum allowed the painting to be included for a few weeks in the Guggenheim exhibit.
Goya painted “Children with a Cart” as a model for a tapestry planned for the bedroom of a Spanish prince. The group of four children includes one boy blowing a horn and another with his back to the viewer.
OK. The guy who grabbed the Goya in the Poconos has pleaded guilty and faces the possibility of prison time. So does his neighbor.
To recap: In the fall of '06, professional art transporters were transporting a Goya painting called "Children with a Cart" from a museum in Toledo to the Guggenheim in NYC. For some reason, these professional art transporters took a "circuitous route through the backwater of Scranton" (that would be the Poconos) and stopped for the night at a HoJo's in Bartonsville. They left the Goya, which was insured for $1 million, unattended in the transport vehicle while they grabbed some shut eye. A trucker from New Jersey saw his opportunity and grabbed the Goya. Later, when he realized the painting was too hot to sell, he called the FBI and claimed that he just sort of found it in his basement.
Despite the nearly final resolution of this case, my main questions still remain unanswered:
a) Why did the professional art transporters stop for the night, and why did they leave a million-dollar painting unattended in a van?
b) Just what did the thief think he was stealing? The involvement of the neighbor makes it sound as though these guys may not be inexperienced at thievery. Like maybe stealing stuff out of unattended vehicles and then selling it was a way for them to make a little money on the side. So, did the trucker know that he was stealing a painting, but didn't know how valuable it was? Or, was it more of a crime of opportunity with fingers crossed for something good?
c) What's so great about this Goya anyway?
d) Who are these children and why do they have a cart?