Robert V. Gentile, a Connecticut mobster long suspected by federal authorities of having information about the whereabouts of $500 million worth of masterworks stolen from Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum decades ago, has died, his lawyer said Wednesday night.
Gentile, 85, died Friday at Hartford Hospital after having a stroke, his attorney, Ryan McGuigan, confirmed to the Globe.
Gentile continuously denied he had knowledge of where any of the pieces stolen from the museum in the early hours of March 18, 1990, could be located.
“To the government, he was the last person known to have possessed the treasures from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum,” McGuigan said. “He denied having the paintings till his death. They say he was a bad guy, but he became a friend. He was the last of his kind.”
Gentile’s death was first reported by the Hartford Courant on its website Wednesday night.
Gentile had been released from prison in March 2019 after serving four and half years on gun charges.
Gentile was one of the last living people who was publicly identified as a suspect by the FBI in its hunt for the stolen artwork. It was the largest art theft in history and remains one of Boston’s most enduring mysteries.
Two men dressed as Boston police officers showed up at the storied museum in the Fenway. They tied up security guards and soon left with 13 pieces from the Gardner’s collection, including priceless works by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Degas.
The art has never been found. The theft has spawned countless articles, books, and most recently a Netflix documentary that highlighted the unlikely ties between the underworld and art world.
Gentile, who had an extensive criminal record, was believed to have connections with those suspected of getting the art after it had been stolen, an assertion he denied.
“I had nothing to do with the paintings. It’s a big joke,” Gentile told the Associated Press in 2019 after being released from prison.
But law enforcement was forever skeptical of the gangster known as “The Cook.”
They believed the widow of another mobster said her husband gave Gentile two of the painting, and that Gentile talked about the stolen work while in prison.
In a search of his home, federal agents found a handwritten list of the stolen paintings and their estimated worth, along with a newspaper article about the museum heist a day after it happened, according to prosecutors. That search led to his 2013 conviction for illegally selling prescription drugs and possessing guns, silencers, and ammunition.
The FBI had been focusing on Gentile since 2009, when the wife of Robert Guarente, another person of interest in the theft, told agents that before his death in 2004, he gave two of the stolen paintings to Gentile.
McGuigan said he last spoke with Gentile three weeks ago, and his client maintained that he didn’t know anything about the stolen art, which included three Rembrandts, among them his only seascape, “Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”
Also taken were Vermeer’s “The Concert,“ five sketches by Degas, and a Manet portrait.
McGuigan recounted a conversation he had with Gentile when he was near death in 2016.
“Years ago I sat next to him in a prison hospital on his deathbed; he wanted to go home and I told him if he just gave us any information on the Gardner he could die with his wife that night in his home and he said, with tears in his eyes, ‘But there ain’t no paintings. There ain’t no paintings,’” McGuigan said.
Asked to elaborate on what he thought Gentile meant by that statement, McGuigan said, “I took it to mean that he did not have them, nor did he have any way of finding them. And that wasn’t based just on that, but on my years of experience prior to that and also after.”
“He like many others was after a $5 million reward,” said McGuigan, noting the reward that was being offered in 2010 when Gentile was cooperating with authorities.
The reward has since been increased to $10 million for the safe return of the artwork.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.