Forest Hills man stole $600K in artwork & tried to sell it at a flea market: prosecutors

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A Forest Hills man was charged last week for allegedly stealing over $600,000 worth of art from his employer.

On Friday, Dec. 9, Leon Zinder, 48, was arrested at his home and presented to the Manhattan federal court after allegedly transporting stolen Native-American and African art across state lines and attempting to sell them.

“As alleged, Leon Zinder stole works of art worth more than $600,000 from his employer and then sought to sell them through a flea market in Manhattan,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said. “This office, working with our law enforcement partners at the FBI, have helped recover and return countless works of stolen art and artifacts to their rightful owners.”

According to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office, from July 2010 to April 2012, Zinder was employed as an art handler by a New York-based company that managed a collection of Native-American and African ethnographic artwork. During this time, Zinder allegedly stole at least 13 pieces of art from facilities maintained by the company, including a Fang Reliquary Guardian Head statue valued at approximately $85,000; a Native American mask valued at approximately $75,000; and a Pende mask valued at approximately $5,000 from the company’s facility in Greenwich, CT.

Later, from September 2015 through October of this year, Zinder allegedly sold the stolen art through an art dealer who worked through a flea market in Lower Manhattan. Zinder claimed that he had obtained the stolen artwork from an elderly widow in Phoenix, AZ, and from storage unit close-out sale.

Eventually, the dealer became aware that the pieces he helped Zinder sell had been reported stolen by the company. The dealer then contacted the FBI and assisted them in the investigation, including turning over many of the stolen pieces of art.

Zinder was charged with one count of interstate sale of stolen property. If convicted, Zinder could face 10 years in prison and a fine of $250,000, or twice the amount of money he made or lost in the sales.

Anyone with information relevant to this investigation is asked to contact the FBI’s Art Crime Team at 212-384-1000 or tips.fbi.gov.

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