December 18, 2014 / 7:42 AM / 5 years ago

FBI, Los Angeles police recover nine stolen paintings worth $10 million

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Federal agents and police in Los Angeles have recovered nine paintings worth millions of dollars that were stolen from the home of an elderly couple six years ago, including works by Marc Chagall and Diego Rivera, and FBI spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

The paintings were recovered in an FBI sting operation in which a suspect identified as Paul Espinoza, 45, was arrested as he tried to sell the stolen artwork to undercover agents, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.

Espinoza was charged by Los Angeles County prosecutors with possession of stolen property, Eimiller said, adding that the police and FBI investigation of the art theft was continuing and that additional suspects were being sought.

She said authorities also are looking for three additional paintings stolen from the couple’s home in the Encino neighbourhood of Los Angeles in August 2008, a daylight art heist that ranks among the biggest in the city’s history.

According to a police account reported by the Los Angeles Times, the couple told investigators they were in their bedrooms and heard nothing at the time of the burglary, which occurred while a housekeeper was out buying groceries.

The housekeeper noticed upon returning that the hallway and living room walls of the home were empty, the Times said.

A $200,000 (£128,565) reward for information leading to the recovery of the paintings and apprehension of the thieves was posted months later. But the case grew cold until September 2014, when police were tipped off to a man in Europe known as “Darko” who was soliciting buyers for the stolen art, the Times said.

Among the pieces recovered by the FBI were the Chagall painting “Les Paysans” and Rivera’s “Mexican Peasant.”

Eimiller said the collection was probably worth several million dollars. The Los Angeles Times, citing court documents in the case, said the nine recovered works were valued together at $10 million (£6.4 million).

The Times said Espinoza pleaded not guilty at an Oct. 27 arraignment.

Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Michael Perry

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