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Mobster eyed in Gardner heist to plead guilty to gun charges

Robert Gentile.

Cloe Poisson/Hartford Courant

Robert Gentile.

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 is scheduled to plead guilty to federal gun charges Thursday.

Robert Gentile, 80, who insists he doesn’t know anything about the stolen artwork, is expected to appear in US District Court in Hartford for a change of plea hearing Thursday morning, according to his lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan. He said Gentile will plead guilty to gun charges, but declined to provide specifics, such as whether he has reached an agreement with prosecutors on a sentencing recommendation.

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Gentile, who has been in custody since he was arrested two years ago during an FBI sting aimed at recovering the paintings, had nearly died of medical complications, McGuigan said.

“He’s faced the prospect of death in prison twice now and still no further information is forthcoming, which leads me to the conclusion he doesn’t have any information on the Gardner paintings,” McGuigan said.

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Asked about Gentile’s current condition, McGuigan said “his health has dramatically improved.”

In March 1990, two thieves disguised as police officers talked their way into the Gardner Museum in Boston’s Fenway neighborhood, tied up the two guards, and pulled and slashed treasured works of art from their frames. They stole 13 pieces, including three Rembrandts, among them his only seascape, “Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” Vermeer’s “The Concert,” and works by Flinck, Manet, and Degas.

The FBI began focusing on Gentile in 2010 when the widow of another person of interest in the case, Robert Guarente, told agents that her late husband had given two of the stolen Gardner paintings to Gentile during a rendezvous in Maine in 2004, according to authorities.

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Gentile initially cooperated, but authorities allege he flunked a polygraph in 2012 when asked if he had known about the Gardner theft beforehand, or had any information about the whereabouts of the paintings. The defense has challenged the results of the polygraph, citing an expert’s report.

A prosecutor alleged in court that Gentile offered to sell the stolen paintings to an undercover FBI agent posing as a drug dealer for $500,000 apiece. But the deal collapsed in 2015 and Gentile was charged with selling a gun to a convicted felon, who was secretly cooperating with the FBI.

McGuigan denied that allegation, saying, “I haven’t seen any information that would support that claim.”

Last year, additional federal charges were brought against Gentile, a convicted felon who is prohibited from owning guns, after authorities searched his house in Manchester, Conn., and found three more guns and a silencer.

Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.
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