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Reputed Conn. mobster denies knowing of Gardner heist

Authorities searched the Connecticut home of Robert Gentile in May.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

HARTFORD – A reputed organized crime figure faces more than four years in prison after pleading guilty to drug trafficking and gun possession in federal court Wednesday, but his attorney said later that the charges would have been dropped if he had been able to provide key information about the long-unsolved theft of artwork from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Robert V. Gentile, 76, of Manchester, Conn. assisted federal authorities for 10 months before his arrest in February but his information was not considered valuable as to who stole the paintings or where they might now be, A. Ryan McGuigan, Gentile’s lawyer, said after the hearing in US District Court.


“He knew some of the individuals that the government believes may have had something to do with the heist,” McGuigan said of Gentile, “but 99 percent of the people who were involved are dead.”

In what has become known as the greatest art theft in history, the Gardner was robbed of 13 pieces — including three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a portrait by Edouard Manet, and sketches by Renoir — in March 1990. Although the FBI has spent countless hours pursuing the case and has offered immunity from prosecution to anyone who helped in the artwork’s recovery, investigators say they have never received a concrete lead as to their whereabouts.

While Gentile did provide information on other associates whose names had surfaced in the past in the investigation, McGuigan said, his client had no firsthand information as to whether these associates had been involved in the theft.

After yesterday’s hearing, assistant US Attorney John Durham declined to comment on the level of Gentile’s cooperation. In court, Durham said that Gentile faced a maximum of 150 years in prison if he were convicted at trial but that the government was willing to agree to a prison term of between 46 and 57 months.


Gentile told US District Judge Robert N. Chatigny that he was pleading guilty to the six charges because he was guilty of the crimes and because he wanted to end his life without any further interference from federal law enforcement. “I’m pleading guilty because I am guilty. I am sorry for causing this problem,’’ Gentile said. “I don’t want any more trouble.”

Gentile sat in a wheelchair and carried a cane during the hearing. He told the judge, “I want to serve my time and get home. I don’t have many years left.” Chatigny set Feb. 6 as a tentative sentencing date.

Gentile’s name was thrust into the Gardner investigation by the widow of Robert Guarente, a mob associate who died in 2005. Elene Guarente told the Globe in May that two or three years ago, she had told investigators that her husband had told her that he had given Gentile a painting that he had kept in a rolled-up tube since the 1990s.

Stephen Kurkjian can be reached via John Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this article.