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Aging Conn. mobster is under federal scrutiny

Officials allege Robert Gentile knows more on Gardner Museum heist

Robert Gentile, 79, has been named in new court papers on the art heist.
Robert Gentile, 79, has been named in new court papers on the art heist.CLOE POISSON/THE HARTFORD COURANT/AP

Federal law enforcement officials, in court papers filed in Connecticut this week, are maintaining their belief that an aging Connecticut mobster “possesses information about significant criminal activity” — the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist — despite the gangster’s claim that he is being harassed and that he has no knowledge about the stolen priceless works of art.

The disclosure came after federal prosecutors in Boston last week separately released never-before-seen video surveillance of an unknown man entering the museum 24 hours before the notorious heist 25 years ago, in violation of museum protocol and under questionable circumstances. Authorities released the video to seek the public’s help identifying the man, the latest campaign in what has become a renewed push in recent years to solve the world’s greatest art theft.

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The court records filed this week do not provide any further details on the potential location of the 13 stolen works of art, including historic masterpieces, but they do state that law enforcement officials “terminated” a cooperation agreement they had with reputed Philadelphia Mafia soldier Robert Gentile. Officials say they severed the agreement after determining that Gentile had lied to a grand jury in 2010 about what he knew about the theft.

But the new records help to explain law enforcement’s continued interest in Gentile, a reputed soldier in the Philadelphia branch of La Cosa Nostra who associated with Boston area gangsters. Those records point to the numerous alleged incidents between Gentile and the artwork that have occurred during the past years.

In one of those incidents, Gentile allegedly told a witness cooperating with the FBI in 2010 that a former Boston-area crew member, the late Robert Guarente, had “masterminded the whole thing,” referring to the heist, and he said Guarente had “flipped,” or talked to authorities, before he died in 2004.

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Guarente’s wife has told authorities that she saw her husband give paintings to Gentile. When the witness asked Gentile if he still had the paintings, Gentile had “just smiled,” according to the court records.

In addition, in earlier court filings, law enforcement officials pointed out that Gentile had told a witness at the time that he had two of the paintings and would “sell individual paintings for $500,000.”

Gentile denies knowing anything about the locations of the artwork.

The theft at the museum, a brazen robbery in the early morning of March 18, 1990, by two men posing as police officers, remains Boston’s last enduring mystery, and the museum has offered a $5 million reward for their return. No one has ever been charged.

Federal prosecutors in Connecticut filed the court papers and indicated their continued interest in Gentile in response to the gangster’s claim that he is repeatedly being harassed by law enforcement officials and targeted in criminal investigations. He said authorities are pressing him into talking, though he says he has already told authorities all he knows.

The 79-year-old is being held without bail after his arrest in April on charges that he, as a convicted felon, possessed ammunition and sold a loaded firearm to a man he knew to be a convicted felon. The man had been cooperating with the FBI, and Gentile is claiming he was entrapped.

The latest investigation looking at Gentile began not long after his April 2014 release from prison following a 30-month sentence for possession of weapons and distribution of drugs to a man cooperating with the FBI.

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Assistant US Attorney John Durham responded in a court filing dated Tuesday that Gentile was the one who began telling a cooperating witness that the FBI had failed to find all of his hidden guns after his earlier conviction in 2013.

Durham said it is not a novel approach for prosecutors to build a case against a person of interest in a separate case “as a means of inducing that individual to disclose the information that he refuses to provide.”

Durham argued that Gentile’s claim that he is being unfairly harassed fails to account for the continued suspicions authorities have about him, notably his claims that he could sell the paintings.

He also failed a lie detector test, with a likelihood of more than 99 percent that he was being deceptive when he said he did not know the location of any of the paintings.

“It becomes something of a head scratcher as to how the government’s involvement in the offense conduct could be deemed ‘excessive” and or violated the defendant’s due process rights,” Durham said in the court filings.


Milton J. Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.