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Art heist seems fake, cops say


Published: October 9, 2009

IF INVESTIGATORS are sure of one thing about the Sept. 25 break-in and theft of as much as $80 million in artwork from a Pebble Beach home, it’s that it probably didn’t happen.

“There’s something up, but I seriously doubt this is the second largest art heist in history,” Monterey County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Mike Richards said Thursday.

Instead, one of the purported victims might be trying to bilk the other out of cash, or it could be a plan to steal money from investors or commit insurance fraud, he said.

“We have a number of theories, and we’ve consulted with some experts and I’ve learned a lot about fine art since the start of this case,” he said, adding that once investigators determine the motive for the alleged hoax, they will have an idea of what charges could be filed against A. Benjamin Amadio and Dr. Ralph Kennaugh.

Richards confirmed the case seemed fishy from the start, when Amadio and Kennaugh reported someone had broken into their rented Pebble Beach home during the afternoon or early evening of Sept. 25 and made off with millions of dollars in artwork, including a Jackson Pollock painting they said is worth at least $20 million. Among the other pieces reportedly taken were paintings by Miro, Rembrandt and Renoir, and they initially set the value of the stolen artwork at $27 million.

But legitimate information about the artwork, or anything else crucial to the investigation, has not been forthcoming, according to Richards.

“All we’re trying to do is solve their theft, and we’ve gotten nothing,” he said. “We’ve hounded them ever since the onset of this thing on the 25th. The basic element of any theft investigation is we need to identify the stolen property and get the information out there all over the world, so if it pops up, it can be recovered.”

Investigators have asked for descriptions, verification of the ownership of the artwork, documentation related to its purchase, receipts, contact information for the people who sold them the pieces — anything that could substantiate the reportedly stolen collection and offer clues.

“They’re just not responding,” he said. “This really stinks — it’s bad — and the best thing they can do is attack us.” (Amadio and his lawyers have accused the sheriff’s office of inaction, corruption and conflicts of interest.)

A fake ransom note?

After sheriff’s investigators had searched the crime scene, the victims suddenly reported finding a ransom note there. But the two-line, typed note seemed written with the intention of sounding like it had been penned by an illiterate, and the paper it was written on only contained Amadio’s fingerprints, Richards said.

“The person who wasn’t smart enough to spell anything right was smart enough to wear gloves?” he asked.

And the victims have been talking to The Monterey County Herald and KSBW-TV, but not to the cops, according to Richards, who held a press conference Oct. 6. “Right after the press conference, they came up with some documentation and gave it to the media,” but not to law enforcement.

Richards said the investigation, which now involves the FBI and Interpol, is continuing. Tips and information on the men’s backgrounds continue to pour in from around the country, and Richards said he spent most of Wednesday fielding calls from reporters throughout the United States.

“Even though we do not know exactly what the motive is,” he said, investigators know it’s not an art heist they’re dealing with. “There are too many things that are inconsistencies.

We know they are lies.”