BOSTON (Reuters) - A mobster who prosecutors contend knows the whereabouts of paintings stolen from a Boston museum in the largest art heist in U.S. history is near death, according to his lawyer, the Boston Globe reported on Saturday.
Robert Gentile, 80, had been scheduled to stand trial last month for selling a loaded firearm to a convicted killer, charges that his attorney contends were the product of a federal sting operation intended to pressure him into leading federal agents to paintings stolen from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.
His trial was delayed by his failing health and a request by defense attorney Ryan McGuigan that he be evaluated to determine if he was mentally capable of standing trial.
Gentile's family has been advised by federal officials to prepare for end-of-life arrangements, the Globe reported on Saturday, citing McGuigan.
McGuigan did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday. A spokesman for federal prosecutors in Connecticut declined to comment.
Gentile has repeatedly denied knowing the whereabouts of any of the art taken in what stands as one of Boston's longest-unsolved high-profile crimes.
McGuigan told the newspaper that he visited his client in a South Carolina hospital on Friday to see if he wanted to make a deathbed confession, and suggested that prosecutors might allow him to return to his home in Manchester, Connecticut if he was able to produce the stolen art.
A tearful Gentile responded that he did not have them, the newspaper quoted McGuigan as saying.
The brazen theft at the private museum was carried out by two men dressed in police uniforms who apparently overpowered a night security guard who had buzzed them in a back entrance. None of the 13 artworks, which include Rembrandt's "Storm on the Sea of Galilee" and Vermeer's "The Concert," has been recovered.
Due to a quirk in Gardner's will, the empty frames that once held the paintings remain on the walls of the museum she built to house the collection she amassed with her husband.
The art must be displayed in the way that it was during her lifetime, preventing curators from hanging new works and leaving a constant reminder of the theft.
At a court hearing last year, federal prosecutors said that Gentile was secretly recorded telling an undercover FBI agent that he had access to at least two of the stolen paintings and could sell them for $500,000 each.
A 2012 FBI search of Gentile's home turned up a handwritten list of the stolen art, its estimated value and police uniforms, according to court documents.
(Reporting by Scott Malone; Editing by Alden Bentley)