LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man who tried to sell stolen paintings worth a fortune, including works by Marc Chagall and Diego Rivera, was sentenced Friday to more than four years in state prison.
Raul Espinoza pleaded no contest to one count of receiving property stolen in 2008 from the Encino home of an elderly couple, Los Angeles prosecutors said.
The whereabouts of a dozen modern paintings from the home of Anton and Susan Roland remained a mystery for more than six years until a Los Angeles police detective got a tip in September that someone in Europe was trying to broker a deal to sell the art.
The FBI set up a sting and Espinoza, 45, was arrested Oct. 23 when he tried to peddle the works to undercover agents at a Los Angeles hotel.
He was asking $700,000 for works he said were worth $5 million, though the paintings have since been valued for as much as $23 million, said Ricardo Santiago, a spokesman for the Los Angeles district attorney.
Officers recovered nine of the stolen artworks, including paintings by Arshile Gorky, Emil Nolde and Chaim Soutine. Three works remain missing. Most of the paintings were works of expressionism.
The art was stolen Aug. 23, 2008 in broad daylight while the Antons, who had round-the-clock care, were in their bedrooms.
The heist occurred when the sole caretaker on duty went to the grocery store and left a side door unlocked. She returned less than an hour later and discovered the burglary.
"I believe the original burglary could not have been accomplished without the assistance of inside help from one of the employees who worked for the victims," detective Donald Hrycyk wrote in a search warrant affidavit to examine Espinoza's phone for more evidence.
The FBI is still investigating and there's a $25,000 reward.
Espinoza, who has prior burglary convictions, is due in court March 25 for a restitution hearing.
The Antons have since died and their children could not be reached Friday for comment. The works were insured by Lloyd's of London, according to a police report.