BOSTON – The FBI has positively identified the two robbers who in 1990 committed the largest art heist in history, stealing over $500 million worth of masterpieces from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum here. One of them is a local ex-con who was free only because his lawyer, now Secretary of State John Kerry, was able to get his first-degree murder conviction overturned in 1982.
“We got justice,” Kerry told a reporter in 2009 of his work for the notorious hoodlum, “and I’ll go to my grave proud that we did.”
Multiple law-enforcement sources here have told Breitbart News that the two career criminals who committed the historic crime were Kerry’s client, George Reissfelder, and a local thug named Lenny DiMuzio. At the time, Reissfelder was 49 and DiMuzio was 42.
Both thieves were dead within a year of their breathtaking crime. DiMuzio was murdered in a gangland hit and Reissfelder died of a drug overdose that some investigators consider suspicious.
The pair gained admission to the lightly guarded museum after midnight on March 18, 1990 by posing as uniformed Boston police officers. Once inside, they disabled the two college-aged guards and spent a leisurely 81 minutes looting the museum.
Their haul included one of the 36 known paintings by 17th-century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer. In addition, they stole three Rembrandts. The museum’s fourth Rembrandt was also taken down from the wall, but the thieves apparently forgot to take it with them as they hauled out the other 13 pieces.
The art has never been recovered. The museum is offering a $5 million reward for the return of the paintings and other assorted items. The Vermeer painting, The Concert, may be the most valuable missing artwork in the world. Its current estimated value is $250 million. Among the stolen Rembrandts is a tiny self-portrait and The Storm on the Sea of Galilee, the Dutch master’s only seascape.
The FBI announced last year that it had “solved” the crime, but has steadfastly refused to officially confirm the identities of Reissfelder and DiMuzio. But this month, on the 25th anniversary of the crime, the Boston FBI office produced a power-point presentation for the media hinting broadly that they robbed the museum.
Now, sources tell Breitbart News that their identities are confirmed.
Kerry’s client, Reissfelder, was a career criminal who was convicted of murdering a guard during a robbery in South Boston in 1966. In the early 1970’s, Massachusetts began giving convicted murderers what became known as “Dukakis weekend furloughs,” after Michael Dukakis, who became governor in 1975. It was one such furlough, to another convicted murderer named Willie Horton, who then fled and terrorized a Maryland couple, that became a major issue in Dukakis’ doomed 1988 presidential campaign.
Like Horton (and other convicted murderers), Reissfelder fled as soon as he was released from prison for the “weekend.” Accompanied by another convicted murderer, Reissfelder embarked on a major crime spree through the south. He was eventually captured after pointing a gun at a cop in Florida and returned to prison here.
But in the meantime, Reissfelder’s codefendant in the murder case, a hood named Silky Sullivan, had made a deathbed confession to a priest, clearing Reissfelder and naming another wiseguy as his accomplice.
Kerry went to law school after failing to win election to Congress in 1972. In 1982 he owned a chocolate-chip cookie shop and was also in private practice with a close friend of his named Roanne Sragow, who later became a state judge and married the attorney general of Rhode Island.
Kerry and Sragow were appointed by the court to handle Reissfelder’s appeal as Kerry began running for lieutenant governor in 1982. Despite what had become overwhelming evidence of Reissfelder’s innocence, many in the criminal-justice system were reluctant to hand the showboating swift boat veteran a high-profile legal victory in the midst of his campaign.
Even then, Kerry was widely disliked by many in state politics for his shameless self-promotion, preening and thin skin. For his love of television appearances, he was known as “Liveshot.”
Finally, however, Reissfelder was cleared, and with the usual TV cameras trailing them, he and Kerry strolled from the state courthouse through Quincy Market. At a well-lit barroom, the grinning politician and thug then toasted one another with beers, an occasion videotaped for the evening news. Kerry went on to be elected lieutenant governor, and senator two years later in 1984.
Reissfelder, meanwhile, immediately returned to his life of crime. To fellow criminals, he bragged that he had actually murdered a man for sport while he was on his Dukakis furlough – Reissfelder said he had shot someone walking along the side of a road, and that the force of the bullet had flipped the man over.
Reissfelder always called his victim “the Flipper.”
Reissfelder eventually fell in with a local wiseguy named Carmelo Merlino. Merlino ran a cut-throat crew of burglars, armed robbers, home invaders and killers out of an auto-body shop on Dorchester Avenue.
Another member of the crew was Lenny DiMuzio, a Vietnam veteran and a top-notch burglar.
Law-enforcement sources believe that Merlino set up the Gardner heist for his two crew members. What is unknown is whether the theft was Merlino’s own idea, or if he was acting essentially as a criminal subcontractor for someone else. Contrary to the plot lines of Hollywood art-theft movies like The Thomas Crown Affair, such well-known stolen paintings are almost impossible to unload on the black market.
But in Massachusetts, stolen art has occasionally been used in plea-bargaining in criminal cases. In return for producing stolen masterpieces, convicted criminals have negotiated, or tried to negotiate, shorter prison sentences.
A year after the record heist, both Reissfelder and DiMuzio were dead. Reissfelder was found dead of a drug overdose in his Quincy apartment. According to sources, DiMuzio was plotting to take over Merlino’s crew when Merlino discovered his treachery. DiMuzio was reported missing in March 1991 and his body was discovered three months later when passersby reported a “foul odor” emanating from the trunk of an abandoned car in East Boston across from the famous Santarpio’s pizza palace. He had been shot multiple times.
After his murder at the auto-body shop, sources say DiMuzio’s corpse was stashed in his own car in the garage of a home here in Jamaica Plain. That home was later purchased by a Boston politician who knew the sordid story, and after building a bar in the garage, he named it “Lenny’s Last Call.”
As investigators began closing in on Merlino. He was convicted of a botched robbery and died in federal prison of diabetes in December 2005. Another local hoodlum believed to have knowledge of the whereabouts of the paintings was Robert Guarente. He had homes in both Massachusetts and Maine, all of which have been searched by police. Guarente died in 2004, like Merlino of diabetes.
One of Guarente’s associates, a reputed Mafia soldier from Connecticut named Robert Gentile, has also been questioned, and had his home near Hartford searched. But once again the investigators came up empty in their search for the missing masterpieces.
Of course, one man from this story remains very much in the public eye.
As the Secretary of State, Kerry continues to negotiate a one-sided nuclear deal with the Iranian mullahs in Switzerland. He will not even return here Monday for the dedication of the new museum named after his longtime Senate colleague Edward M. Kennedy. That ceremony will be attended by most of the nation’s other high-ranking Democrats, including Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
The new Kennedy museum is located about a mile from where Merlino hatched the Gardner heist in his garage on Dorchester Avenue.
Kerry apparently has made only one statement on his own connection to the greatest art theft in history, when Reissfelder’s name first began surfacing as a suspect several years ago.
Speaking to US News in 2009, he didn’t seem overly concerned with the potential loss of the priceless art.
“I don’t know if those paintings ended up on eBay,” he quipped, “but they’re not on my wall!”
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