2 Wis. men charged in theft of $5M violin

AP News
Posted: Feb 07, 2014 5:02 PM

MILWAUKEE (AP) — A one-time art thief charged with stealing a multimillion-dollar violin once told an acquaintance that type of robbery was his dream crime because of the instrument's value and the ease of grabbing it from a musician walking down the street, according to court documents.

Salah Salahadyn, 41, was charged Friday in the January theft of a Stradivarius violin taken from a concertmaster as he got into his car after a performance in Milwaukee.

Salahadyn and a second man charged in the theft, Universal Knowledge Allah, 36, appeared in court Friday. Both have been charged with being a party to robbery. Allah is also charged with possessing marijuana. Salahadyn was previously identified as Salah Jones.

Salahadyn's public defender, Alejandro Lockwood, left the hearing without talking to reporters.

Allah's defense attorney, Paul Ksicinski, said the criminal complaint says his client wasn't present during the robbery. The complaint filed Friday does say Allah bought the stun gun used in the attack.

Police found the 300-year-old violin, valued at $5 million, late Wednesday night in a suitcase in the attic of a Milwaukee home belonging to one of Salahadyn's acquaintances. Police said the homeowner did not know what was in the suitcase, and they said the violin was in good condition.

The violin had been grabbed Jan. 27 from Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Frank Almond as he left a performance at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

According to the criminal complaint, Almond told investigators he saw a maroon van parked next to his vehicle as he approached. As he opened a rear door to put the violin inside, a man walked up and shocked him with a stun gun. Almond, struck on the wrist and chest, fell to the ground.

A clarinetist who was in the same parking lot told police he heard Almond scream and then yell, "They got the violin." Then the clarinetist saw the van speed out of the lot.

Police who responded found small particles of paper on the ground. The confetti emitted by the stun gun contained serial numbers that allowed officers to trace the weapon to Allah.

On Sunday, a friend of Allah's contacted police and told them he had been at the barbershop where Allah worked and said everyone was talking about the violin heist. The friend, who gave Allah a ride home, told police that Allah confided that he bought a stun gun, which he gave to Salahadyn. When the friend asked Allah if the weapon could be tracked, Allah said it could but he planned to claim it was stolen, the complaint said.

Another person contacted police and told them that Salahadyn had spoken about the ease of stealing high-end art from unsuspecting people.

"Salahadyn explained that his dream theft was a Stradivarius violin because of its potential value and the fact that it could be snatched from the hands of a musician as they walk down the street," the complaint said.

Salahadyn had previously been convicted of stealing a $25,000 statue from a Milwaukee art gallery in 1995 and later trying to sell it back to the same dealer.

"Theoretically, that might have been his plan here," Police Chief Ed Flynn said during a Thursday news conference.

The two men were arrested Monday but not charged until Friday. Milwaukee District Attorney John Chisholm said previously that charges had been delayed while prosecutors negotiated for the return of the violin.

The instrument was built in 1715 by renowned Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari. Experts estimate 600 to 650 Stradivarius instruments remain — about half of what the master produced.

The violin's owner had loaned the instrument to Almond, who also teaches music at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.