May 15, 2010

Rogue art dealer Kurt Lidke arrested again

In The Seattle Times, Mike Carter reports that a notorious Seattle art thief, barely out of prison for a series of brazen art heists from some of the city's most respected collectors, has been arrested in the sales of stolen artwork, including a Rembrandt etching taken in a Sammamish burglary. "Kurt Lidtke, a former Seattle gallery owner, wept in court in 2007 while apologizing for thefts that had stunned the Northwest's art community. He was ordered to pay more than $400,000 in restitution and sent to prison for 40 months for thefts first detailed in a series of stories in The Seattle Times. He was accused of selling consigned artwork without paying the owners, and pleaded guilty to nine felony theft charges in a plea bargain. He was released from prison Dec. 21.

"According to charges unsealed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Lidtke was working with a convicted burglar to steal artworks and then sell them. Lidtke was arrested in Bozeman, Montana, on Tuesday, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, and was to appear in federal court there. Some of the art in the most recent thefts is believed to have come from a November 2009 burglary from an unidentified Seattle homeowner and included Morris Graves and Mark Tobey paintings valued at more than $190,000. Agents also believe Lidtke and his associates were casing several Seattle homes for future thefts. The charges allege Lidtke was targeting houses for a burglar who was then breaking in and stealing art that Lidtke unknowingly was marketing to an undercover FBI employee.

"During phone conversations with the undercover employee, Lidtke is reported to have said the Department of Corrections had offered him a business opportunity by locking him up 'with a bunch of criminals.' Lidtke, once a trusted art dealer, knew who had valuable collections. 'I can say, 'Hey, go get that painting for me,' you know, and they do,'  Lidtke reportedly told the agent. 'Crazy. It's just crazy.'"

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