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New charges for target of Gardner heist probe

The new gun charges for the aging Connecticut mobster are based on the early May search of his home by federal agents.
The new gun charges for the aging Connecticut mobster are based on the early May search of his home by federal agents. Steven G. Smith for the Boston Globe/File

An aging Connecticut mobster who has been a target of the investigation into the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art heist faces new gun charges based on a May 2 search of his home — the third search of his Manchester home by the FBI since 2012.

Robert V. Gentile, 79, who has been in prison since April 2015 awaiting trial on prior gun charges, on Tuesday was charged in federal court in Connecticut with being a felon in possession of a firearm and possession of an unregistered silencer. He faces up to 10 years in prison on each charge if he is convicted.

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Gentile’s lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, said he could not comment on the latest indictment, but said it appears that the FBI is attempting to pressure his client into cooperating in the investigation of the 1990 theft of 13 masterworks from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Gentile, he said, has maintained that he does not know where the stolen paintings are, and does not know who has them.

“I think after 26 years of an open-ended investigation, this is their best and last hope,” he said.

The May 2 search was the third time the FBI has searched Gentile’s home since 2012. During that search, in which authorities dug up an old oil drum from the backyard, ripped up carpeting, wall paneling, and part of the ceiling of Gentile’s ranch-style house on Frances Drive, authorities said they found a .22-caliber Browning semi-automatic pistol, a 9 mm Walther semi-automatic pistol, a .380-caliber RPB Industries, a M11-A1 semi-automatic pistol, and an unregistered silencer.

The FBI was looking for the 13 missing Gardner masterworks, according to a search warrant provided to Gentile’s wife, who was at home during the search, McGuigan said earlier this month.

The Gardner heist remains perhaps the world’s greatest unsolved art theft. Two men dressed as police officers conned their way into the museum in the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, tied up the two security guards, and made off with $500 million worth of paintings, including three Rembrandts and a Vermeer.

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No one has been charged in the theft, though the museum has offered a reward of up to $5 million for the return of the paintings. US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz of Massachusetts has also said she would consider granting immunity to anyone who had the paintings in their possession.

Though no one has ever been charged in the theft, the FBI disclosed in 2013 that the agency believes it knows who took the paintings – both suspects have died – and that the paintings may have made their way through organized crime circles to Philadelphia, where the trail went cold.

Gentile is a reputed Mafia member with ties to organized crime in Boston and Philadelphia.

In January, a federal prosecutor told a judge in Connecticut that Gentile told at least three people that he had access to the paintings and that he drew up a sales contract with one of them.

Prosecutors have alleged that Gentile 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.

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.

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McGuigan said the three searches have not linked Gentile to the museum theft. But the FBI has maintained an interest in him for several years nonetheless.

Gentile 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. After his release, he was targeted in a second sting and arrested in April 2015.


Shelley Murphy of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Milton Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MiltonValencia.