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Dual investigations ongoing in art heist/fraud case

By MARY BROWNFIELD

Published: December 18, 2009

INVESTIGATORS ARE keeping mum on the progress of the convoluted Pebble Beach art-heist case, but Monterey County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Mike Richards confirmed Wednesday that research into the purported September burglary of a Pebble Beach home — and the resulting disappearance of millions of dollars’ worth of artwork — is ongoing.

And the alleged victims, A. Benjamin Amadio and Ralph Kennaugh, are suspected of committing insurance fraud in the same case.

Paucity of facts

Since the Sept. 25 break-in at the men’s rental house that resulted in the reported theft of an estimated $80 million in artwork, including a painting by Jackson Pollock the victims said is worth $20 million, authorities have decried the men’s reluctance to provide useful information on the alleged crime. The pair issued their own press release and continued to communicate with select members of the media — particularly the Monterey County Herald and KSBW TV — while failing to turn over information to the Monterey County Sheriff’s Office, Richards reported in October.

There were also conflicting stories about the discovery of a ransom note found after the burglary, as well as questions about its genuineness.

While investigators accused the men of stalling and failing to furnish any useful information, including verification that the stolen pieces even existed and were in their home in the first place, Amadio and Kennaugh accused the sheriff’s office of corruption and ineptitude.

But news on what had been described as the second largest art heist in history has been quiet for the past couple of months.

“We don’t have much to say right now,” Richards said. “This is still an ongoing investigation of the original reported burglary of the residence, and now a second investigation involving fraud on the part of the victims. Yes, they are still considered suspects, and we are still actively investigating that.”

He said detectives suspect the men of insurance fraud and reported they continue to be uncooperative and have not provided any information to validate the existence of the pieces and their ownership of the originals.