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Man linked to Gardner art heist gets prison term

HARTFORD – Robert Gentile, the alleged Mafia figure who emerged last year as a law enforcement ­focus in the investigation into the notorious Gardner Museum heist, was sentenced here in federal court Thursday to 30 months in prison for unrelated gun charges and for selling prescription drugs.

Prosecutors said for the first time in open court Thursday that their continued interest in Gentile in relation to the Gardner was based in part on a list they found in his home of the 13 works of art that were stolen in the heist, their estimated value, and a Boston Herald article published days after the theft. They also said a polygraph test he took about his knowledge of the heist concluded with a 99 percent assurance rate that he was lying.


Assistant US Attorney John Durham said the disclosure and Gentile’s alleged Mafia history should have been factored into the sentence handed out Thursday, though Gentile’s lawyer said they had no bearing on the gun and drug charges. The lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, has ­also denied that Gentile has any knowledge of the location of the paintings.

US District Court Judge Robert N. Chatigny, while agreeing that Gentile appeared to show no remorse for his crimes and that he had a seedy history, ultimately handed out what was seen as a lenient sentence. Gentile, 76, had faced 46 to 57 months in prison under sentencing guidelines.

Chatigny said he was considering Gentile’s age, his ailing health, and his wife’s poor health in handing out the sentence.

“It’s significantly punitive for a man your age and for a man whose wife needs him,” Chatigny said. Gentile, who moments earlier had tearfully pleaded for mercy, responded, “Thank you your honor, thank you very much.”

Seated at the edge of his seat in tan prison garb, his cane by his side, the gray-haired Gentile crossed himself as the sentence was announced. In prison since his arrest in February 2012, he could complete his sentence in less than a year.


Law enforcement’s interest in Gentile has been part of what has become the most active stage of the Gardner investigation in recent years, possibly since the heist occurred on March 20, 1990.

At the time, two men posing as police officers conned their way into the museum in the early morning hours, tied up the two security guards, and made off with 13 pieces of art, including three Rembrandts and a Vermeer, in what has been called the largest property theft in US history.

In March, on the 23d anniversary of the heist, the FBI said for the first time that it had identified the men who actually stole the works and that the art made its way through organized crime circles.

FBI investigators said some of the works made their way to Philadelphia as recently as a ­decade ago, though the trail then went cold.

Gentile was a close associate of the late Robert Guarente, a Mafia figure who died in 2004 and has been a central point of the investigation.

Both Guarente and Gentile have alleged ties to the Philadelphia Mafia, and were said by prosecutors to be made men, or members who have been ­inducted into the organized crime group.

But Gentile’s lawyer denied his client’s ties to the Mafia or the paintings. McGuigan has accused prosecutors of setting up his client in a sting operation involving prescription drug sales in an effort to coerce him into talking about the theft. The drug investigation led to the search of his home and the discovery of the guns, leading to more charges.


But McGuigan said his client has told investigators all he knows.

He said Gentile failed the polygraph because he was nervous under what he called an interrogation under the threat of jail time.

McGuigan said his client, who he described as a hoarder, had only innocently kept the list of artworks and the Herald article after it was given to him by a man who wanted to contact Guarente about the 13 paintings in the early 2000s. McGuigan would not say why the man wanted to talk to ­Guarente about the paintings.

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@
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