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Man eyed by Gardner heist investigators arrested again

The FBI visited the home of Robert Gentile in 2012.
The FBI visited the home of Robert Gentile in 2012.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/File

A Connecticut organized crime figure earlier identified by the FBI as a "person of interest" in the 1990 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist recently talked about selling the stolen paintings to an undercover FBI agent, a government lawyer said in court Friday.

The assertion that Robert V. Gentile, who has a long criminal record, was attempting to negotiate the sale of the paintings came after Gentile was arrested Friday morning on unrelated gun charges while on supervised release from an earlier prison sentence. Gentile reportedly made the revelation during a conversation with an undercover agent within the last several months.

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"The government alleges that the defendant negotiated the sale of paintings, which had been stolen from the Gardner Museum, with an undercover FBI agent," Assistant US Attorney John H. Durham said during a Friday afternoon court hearing, according to a statement released by the US Attorney's office in Connecticut.

No further details were available from the US Attorney's office.

At the conclusion of the hearing in US District Court in Hartford, Magistrate Judge Thomas P. Smith ordered the 78-year-old Gentile held in custody, pending a continuation of the hearing Monday morning.

Gentile's lawyer said Gentile has previously falsely claimed knowledge of the sensational art theft and said law enforcement authorities are "squeezing" him with the latest arrest to try to obtain information from him.

The lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, said in an interview Friday that Gentile knows nothing about the paintings.

"He's never seen the paintings, nor does he have any idea as to the whereabouts of the paintings," McGuigan said.

FBI agents searched Gentile's house in Manchester, Conn., in 2012.

In 2013, he was sentenced to 30 months in prison after being convicted of illegally possessing a gun and of selling prescription drugs to an FBI informant. McGuigan told the Globe last month that in that case Gentile was not giving law enforcement authorities "what they wanted so they squeezed him."

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McGuigan said Gentile would have struck a deal for leniency in his earlier criminal case and for a chance at reward money if he had known anything about the stolen artwork.

He said Gentile's arrest Friday was another effort by law enforcement to force him to reveal information that he does not have about the heist, one of the most notorious in the history of the art world.

Robbers stole several masterpieces from the Gardner Museum on March 18, 1990. The crime has stumped investigators for 25 years.

Gentile was arrested Friday when he reported to his federal probation officer, McGuigan said. He served about 24 months of a 30-month sentence on his 2013 federal convictions, McGuigan said. A judge will consider revoking his early release on those convictions and sending him back to prison Monday, McGuigan said.

Gentile has been a focus of investigators' attention since the wife of another organized crime figure told them that before that gangster's 2004 death, he had given several of the stolen paintings to Gentile.

He is one of three people that the FBI has described as "persons of interest" in the case. The other two have died.

During a 2012 search of Gentile's home in Manchester, agents found a list of the stolen artwork with their black market value, and a stash of weapons, police hats, handcuffs, drugs, and other items.

An empty Rubbermaid tub buried under the floorboards of a shed in his yard also was discovered. It tested negative for paint residue linked to the stolen artwork.

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Globe correspondent Stephen Kurkjian and Shelley Murphy of the Globe staff contributed to this report.