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No deathbed confession in Gardner heist

In this April 20, 2015, file photo, Robert Gentile is brought into the federal courthouse in a wheelchair for a continuation of a hearing. Cloe Poisson/The Hartford Courant via AP

There will be no deathbed confession from a Connecticut mobster suspected by the FBI of having information about the whereabouts of $500 million worth of masterworks stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum decades ago, his lawyer said.

The family of 80-year-old Robert Gentile, who is in federal custody awaiting trial on gun charges, was warned Wednesday by the US Marshals Service to “prepare to make end of life arrangements” because he is in critical condition, his lawyer said in a telephone interview.

Hartford attorney A. Ryan McGuigan said he rushed to a South Carolina hospital where Gentile is near death Friday and told him, “If at any time there was a critical moment to give up an old secret for the possibility of seeing your loved ones one more time, this was it.”


He suggested authorities would probably let Gentile die at home in Manchester, Conn., surrounded by his family if he gave up the artwork. However, McGuigan said, a teary-eyed Gentile responded, “But there’s no paintings.”

“Deathbed confessions are not uncommon,” said McGuigan, adding that even though his client has always insisted he has no information about the stolen paintings, he felt it would have been reckless not to explore the possibility that Gentile was ready to talk.

“The importance of the artwork to humanity has never escaped me,” McGuigan said. “And so with a glimmer of hope I went down to see if there was a possibility that there would be a miracle.”

The attorney said he called Gentile’s wife, who is also in failing health, and his son from the hospital room and handed the phone to the old mobster, who said his goodbyes and told them he loved them.

McGuigan declined to provide specifics about Gentile’s illness but said he was barely conscious during the nine hours he spent with him at the hospital Friday and “his systems are shutting down.”


However, he said his client, who had been on life support the day before, was better Friday and breathing on his own.

Gentile is one of a handful of low-level criminals who were identified by the FBI as persons of interest in the heist, and most of the others are dead.

Kristen Setera, a spokeswoman for the FBI’s Boston office, declined to comment on Gentile’s condition or what effect it might have on the ongoing investigation.

Anthony Amore, the Gardner museum’s security director who is working with the FBI to recover the stolen artwork, said, “We’re not sitting around waiting for deathbed confessions, we’re actively working every day.”

Two men disguised as police officers talked their way into the museum on Boston’s Fenway in the early hours of March 18, 1990, tied up two guards, and disappeared with 13 masterworks. They include three Rembrandts — including his only seascape, “Storm on the Sea of Galilee” — and a Vermeer.

The theft remains unsolved, despite a $5 million reward and promises of immunity. In 2013, the FBI announced it was confident it had identified the two thieves, both now deceased, but declined to name them. Authorities said they believed some of the artwork changed hands through organized crime circles, and moved from Boston to Connecticut and Philadelphia, where the trail went cold.

The FBI began focusing on Gentile in 2009 when the wife of Robert Guarente, another person of interest in the theft, told agents that before his death in 2004, he gave two of the stolen paintings to Gentile.


A federal prosecutor revealed in court earlier this year that Gentile last year offered to sell the paintings for $500,000 each to an undercover FBI agent. He also flunked a polygraph exam when he denied that he knew about plans to rob the Gardner museum beforehand and when he denied that he had the paintings or knew where they were, the prosecutor said.

But Gentile’s lawyer said his client was “just pretending” to have the paintings; and he disputed the reliability of the polygraph results.

Gentile was slated to stand trial in federal court in Hartford this month on gun charges, but it was postponed indefinitely after his health deteriorated and his lawyer sought a psychological examination to determine his mental competency.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.