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‘This guy is Saint Michael and is over 600 years old’: Sculptures, paintings, poster nabbed in art heist

The FBI set up a sting operation after records show at least $112,000 in cash changed hands in exchange for some of the items. The investigation has since led to criminal charges against three people.

Federal prosecutors say these are among several historical and valuable artifacts that went missing from a Deerfield storage facility last spring. Three people have been criminally charged in connection with the alleged heist.
Federal prosecutors say these are among several historical and valuable artifacts that went missing from a Deerfield storage facility last spring. Three people have been criminally charged in connection with the alleged heist.
U.S. District Court records

The artifacts ranged from a 15th century sculpture, to French flatware from the 1800s, to a 1976 concert poster for The Who by German artist Gunther Kieser.

They included an early 20th century home phonograph designed by Thomas Edison, a two-handled cup from Tiffany & Co. dating back to around 1893, and a Currier and Ives print of The City of Chicago, 1874.

And after they went missing from a set of storage units in Deerfield last spring, federal court records show at least $112,000 in cash changed hands in exchange for some of the artifacts before the FBI set up a sting operation in a Lansing jewelry store. The investigation, conducted in the early months of the coronavirus pandemic, has since led to criminal charges against three people in connection with the alleged heist.

One of those charged, John Garcia of northwest Indiana, allegedly sent a text while trying to sell one of the stolen items that read, “this guy is Saint Michael and is over 600 years old . not cheap”

Prosecutors charged Garcia with wire fraud last summer and accused him of selling stolen paintings, sculptures and rugs. Marilyn Rothschild, of Highland Park, and a Deerfield storage facility employee named Brian Gustafson were also later charged for their alleged roles in the heist. Court records show at least 180 items were stolen.

But for the first time, a 21-page inventory of the property belonging to the unnamed victim has been made public in a recently unsealed search warrant application. The long list also includes a book by Dante Alighieri, the work of painters Albrecht Durer, Heinrich Aldegrever and Walter Schnackenberg, and even a small hunting crossbow from the late 16th or early 17th century.

Lawyers for Garcia and Rothschild did not respond to messages seeking comment. Gustafson’s defense attorney declined to comment when reached by the Chicago Sun-Times. Prison records show Garcia is in custody at the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center.

The investigation began after the victim told the FBI last May that several pieces of the person’s collection of historically significant and valuable artifacts had been stolen from a Deerfield storage facility some time after Valentine’s Day 2020, records show. The feds then learned that some of the stolen items had been sold in two transactions in April and May to the owner of a Lansing jewelry store and the owner of an auction house.

During the first transaction, the jewelry store owner paid $6,500 cash and another $25,000 by check for some items, records show. The auction house owner purportedly paid $50,000 in cash for some items. During the second transaction in May, the auction house owner paid $56,000 in cash and another $6,000 by check for certain items, records show.

Prosecutors say the items were purchased from Garcia and Rothschild. Garcia allegedly negotiated the transactions by phone and used aliases that included “John Adams” and “Michael Chapman.” Rothschild allegedly appeared in person at the jewelry store.

The feds set up their sting on May 23, records show. In the days leading up to it, Garcia and the jewelry store owner allegedly texted and spoke by phone. For example, Garcia allegedly sent over a photo of the “Saint Michael” statue along with the “not cheap” comment. He also allegedly asked the jewelry store owner if he’d had a chance to speak with his “money guy” and added, “I think if he can manage $50 to $70 grand in cash he will be a happy man.”

Garcia told the jewelry store owner that “Marilyn” would be bringing the items to the store, records show. The feds say they wired up the jewelry store owner and watched behind a one-way window as Rothschild arrived and allegedly sold 45 items there.

When agents confronted her after the transaction, Rothschild at first allegedly said the items belonged to her father and that she had permission to sell them. Later, she acknowledged they had been brought to her by a male friend who turned out to be Garcia.

It turned out Rothschild and Garcia had storage units in the same Deerfield facility as the victim, according to the feds. Garcia’s unit was not on the same floor as the victim’s. But surveillance footage recorded between March and May 2020 allegedly showed someone resembling Garcia moving several large, odd-sized items from the same floor as the victim’s units to an elevator before leaving the facility with them.

An indictment alleges that Gustafson, an employee at the facility, gave Garcia information about the victim and acted as a lookout while Garcia stole the items.

The feds also learned that Garcia began renting two new storage units in Orland Park after the sting at the Lansing jewelry store. On Aug. 5, agents visited and said they were able to see several rugs and framed pieces of art allegedly from the victim’s collection.