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OPINION

If he can’t find stolen art, can Anthony Amore find what’s stolen in state government?

Someone had to ask, so I did. The state auditor candidate’s first reaction: It’s “a cheap shot.” But he addressed it anyway with reasonably good humor.

Anthony Amore, security director of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, was reflected in the empty frame that held the painting "The Concert" by Vermeer.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/File 2019

For Anthony Amore, the Republican candidate for state auditor, it’s the elephant in the room — or, more accurately, the empty frame in the Dutch Room of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which once held Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.”

For 17 years, Amore has been the museum’s director of security and chief investigator — a job that includes responsibility for investigating the 1990 theft of 13 works of art, including that precious Rembrandt. The crime — the largest single property theft in the world — has never been solved. Of course, that failure is not on Amore alone. But it does raise one obvious question: Why should voters believe that as auditor, he can find anything lost, stolen, or wasted in state government?

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Someone had to ask, so I did. Amore’s first reaction: It’s “a cheap shot.” But he addressed it anyway with reasonably good humor. As he explained to me, investigating an art heist is “a completely different animal” than investigating fraud, waste, or corruption in government. “Finding objects is vastly different than finding waste and abuse,” he said. But then, he also argued, “The skills are the same. The mission is the same.” You are “following facts to the truth.” As for not being able to get to the truth of the museum heist, he points out that the FBI, the US Justice Department, and the State Police, all of whom have been trying to recover the stolen art, “haven’t found it either.”

True. Yet Amore is still making the case to voters that his unique experience is the big difference between his candidacy and that of his Democratic opponent, state Senator Diana DiZoglio. On his campaign website, under the section “About Anthony,” the first sentence states that Amore “brings more than 30 years of experience in investigations, audits and inspections to his campaign for Massachusetts state auditor.” So another important question is how Amore’s museum experience would inform the way he does the work of state auditor.

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Amore is promising to be an independent watchdog, ready to stand up to one-party rule by exposing whatever and whomever needs to be exposed on Beacon Hill. Yet in a GBH radio interview last March, Amore told host Jim Braude he knows who is responsible for the Gardner heist but wouldn’t share the identity. By the way, neither would FBI investigators when they announced in 2013 they had identified the thieves but wouldn’t name those responsible.

While a multitude of theories and leads have been chased since then, no suspect has been officially named. When I asked Amore about it, he said, “We believe we know who stole the paintings.” So why not say so? “There’s no value to it. I think that’s what people don’t understand about my job and the FBI’s job,” he said. “If we put out the names of people we think did it, it would lead to bad leads. ... There are enormous amounts of people who have spoken to us in confidence. We can’t put names out there. We can’t betray people’s trust in that matter.”

Given that the Gardner heist is still the art world’s biggest unsolved crime, the jury is out on whether that’s the right approach. But in the state auditor’s office, transparency is key. The public is hiring an auditor not to keep secrets but to reveal them. Amore, a licensed private investigator who has never held elective office, said he does see a difference between the two jobs. As state auditor, he said, you are “the chief accountability officer. You make government accountable to the people. ... You do these investigations and make them public.”

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So far, much of the conversation about Amore’s candidacy highlights the fact that he’s running as a moderate Republican who is backed by Governor Charlie Baker and spurned by the Trump lovers who currently control the party apparatus. As if that’s why he should be auditor, rather than any judgment about his current job performance and how it applies to the job he’s seeking. About his track record at the Gardner, Amore said, “There have been zero losses” to the museum collection since he took over security. In January 2021, the Globe reported that a man was arrested for allegedly vandalizing the museum and for receiving stolen property from an art gallery on Newbury Street.

As for references about his detective skills, Amore said, “Ask the FBI what kind of investigator I am.”

I have no doubt they will vouch for each other.


Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her @joan_vennochi.