Metro

FBI searches property of man at center of Gardner heist case

FBI officials paused for a discussion as they searched the home of gangster Robert Gentile in Manchester, Conn., Monday.
Steven G. Smith for The Boston Globe
FBI officials paused for a discussion as they searched the home of gangster Robert Gentile in Manchester, Conn., Monday.

MANCHESTER, Conn. — For the third time, the FBI on Monday searched the property of aging mobster Robert Gentile, who is linked to the investigation into the notorious 1990 theft of $500 million worth of paintings from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Late Monday afternoon, the Manchester street was blocked off by law enforcement vehicles. Gentile’s lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, said agents from the FBI’s Evidence Response Team were digging within 10 feet of the ranch home. Agents were searching around a chimney on the west side of the house, which is near a vent pipe that went to the oil tank, he said.

They used metal detectors and two dogs, added McGuigan, who watched the search from his car. He said they also searched inside the residence.

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McGuigan said his 80-year-old client laughed Monday when told of the latest search. “They ain’t gonna find nothing,” Gentile said, according to his lawyer.

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McGuigan, who said Gentile’s wife was home during the search, said he had not been given a copy of a search warrant and has not been explicitly told by law enforcement what they are looking for. But he said that the volume of the agents involved and the support equipment they brought with them suggested they were looking for Gardner paintings.

The FBI had twice searched Gentile’s property to look for the paintings, he said, and the previous searches had failed to find evidence linking Gentile to the heist.

“If they didn’t find them in the first two searches, how could they find them this time?” McGuigan asked.

Kristen Setera, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Boston office, would only say that agents are participating in a “court-authorized activity ... in connection with an ongoing federal investigation. We will have no further comment at this time.’’

Cloe Poisson/Hartford Courant/AP/file
Robert Gentile in 2015.
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The FBI referred further questions to the US attorney’s office for Connecticut. Tom Carson, a spokesman for the office, declined to comment.

In January, a federal prosecutor told a judge in Connecticut that Gentile told at least three people he had access to the paintings and even drew up a sales contract with one of them. Federal prosecutors have alleged that he offered to sell the paintings to an undercover FBI agent, who was posing as a drug dealer, for $500,000 apiece in 2015, but that deal collapsed.

But McGuigan said Monday that Gentile remains adamant that he had no role in the robbery, does not have the paintings, and does not know where they are.

The lawyer said his client is in poor health.

The aging criminal was freed from prison in 2014 on supervised release after serving 30 months for illegally possessing a gun and selling prescription drugs to an FBI informant.

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After his release, he was targeted in a second sting and arrested in April 2015. He has been held without bail on federal weapons charges and is scheduled to stand trial this July in federal court in Hartford.

The Gardner robbery took place in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, when two men dressed as police officers talked their way into the museum on the Fenway, tied up the two guards, and stole 13 masterworks.

The artwork includes three Rembrandts — including his only seascape, “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee” — a Vermeer, a Manet, and a Flinck.

The Globe has reported that the FBI began focusing on Gentile in 2009 when the wife of another person of interest in the theft, Robert Guarente, told agents that her late husband gave two of the stolen paintings to Gentile before he died in 2004.

On Monday evening, neighbors said the street was usually quiet. “This is the most excitement we had here,” said Carl Dailey, who lives several houses away on Niles Drive.

Dailey said he found out about the interest in Gentile’s home when he got a text message from his friend that said, “Hey, I heard you got a mobster in your neighborhood.”

Brandon Lowrey and his roommate Michael Atkins have a good view of the house being searched from their backyard. They watched the action Monday as they worked on remodeling projects inside their house. Their two dogs raced around the backyard as they gazed through trees toward the row of hulking black and white FBI vehicles from Boston.

“We mostly kind of mind our own business,” Lowery said.

Another neighbor, Joe O’Reilly, called the neighborhood quirky. For a while, a family across the street would stock their swimming pool with fish and every morning a heron would swoop down and grab one, he said.

O’Reilly said he sometimes sees Mrs. Gentile sitting on her front porch, alone or with a visitor. “She looks lonely as can be,” he said.

A call to a number listed for the Gentile residence was not returned on Monday afternoon.

Much of the FBI search focused on an area around an underground oil tank on the property of Robert Gentile.
Steven G. Smith for The Boston Globe
Much of the FBI search focused on an area around an underground oil tank on the property of Robert Gentile.

John R. Ellement, Milton J. Valencia, and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Stephen A. Kurkjian contributed to this report. Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph. Laura Krantz can be reached at laura.krantz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @laurakrantz.