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Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee (1633) is shown in a handout photo provided by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, on Monday. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum via Reuters
Manet's oil on canvas Chez Tortoni (1878-80) is shown in a handout photo provided by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, on Monday. Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum via Reuters
The FBI believes it has identified the thieves who stole 13 artworks from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 in the costliest art theft in US history and asked for anyone who has seen the paintings to contact the bureau.
On the 23rd anniversary of the theft, which stands as one of the most prominent unsolved crimes in modern Boston, officials said that their top priority was recovering the $500 million in missing art, which includes Rembrandt's Storm on the Sea of Galilee and Edouard Manet's Chez Tortoni.
The holes in the Gardner museum's collection are prominent, in part because the empty frames that once held the paintings remain, empty, on the gallery walls due to a quirk in the will of the museum's founder.
FBI officials said they suspect much of the art could still be in the northeastern United States.
"It's likely that over the years, someone - a friend, a neighbor or relative - has seen the art hanging on a wall, placed above a mantle or stored in an attic," Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, said at a news conference on Monday.
"We want that person to call us."
The museum reiterated its offer of a $5 million reward for information that leads directly to the return of all the art.
Law enforcement officials said they could offer immunity from prosecution to anyone who comes forward to surrender the paintings. Any prosecution would focus on charges of possession or trafficking in stolen property, since the statute of limitations on prosecuting the original theft has expired.
"Immunity is available, it's a very strong possibility," said US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, noting that the artwork could be in the possession of people who were unaware it had been stolen.
The FBI's DesLauriers said the agency believes the thieves belonged to a criminal organization based in New England and the mid-Atlantic states.
He said the authorities believe the art was taken to Connecticut and the Philadelphia region in the years after the theft and offered for sale in Philadelphia about a decade ago.
After the attempted sale, the FBI does not know what happened to the artwork, DesLauriers said.
DesLauriers repeatedly rebuffed questions from reporters on the identities of the thieves, saying releasing their names could hamper the investigation. He refused to say whether the thieves are now in prison on other charges, or whether they are dead or alive.
Last year, a federal prosecutor in Connecticut revealed that the FBI believed a reputed Connecticut mobster, Robert Gentile, had some involvement with stolen property related to the art heist.
Gentile, 76, of Manchester, Connecticut, was not charged in the heist but pleaded guilty in November in a weapons and prescription drugs case. Gentile's lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, said at the time that Gentile testified before a grand jury investigating the heist.
He said Gentile knows nothing about the heist but was acquainted with people federal authorities believe may have been involved. The FBI also searched the Worcester home of an ex-convict who has a history of art theft.
(China Daily 03/20/2013 page10)