AIA TALK 10 March: The United States vs. Art Thieves: Tales from the FBI's Real Indiana Jones
Robert K. Wittman joined the FBI as a Special Agent in 1988 and was until a few months ago assigned to the Philadelphia Field Division. As a result of specialized training in art, antiques, jewelry and gem identification, he served as the FBI’s investigative expert in this field worldwide. He has been responsible for the recovery of more than $225 million worth of stolen art and cultural property and has been instrumental in the prosecution and conviction of numerous individuals involved in these crimes. Because of this unique experience, SA Wittman was the Senior Investigator of the FBI’s rapid deployment national Art Crime Team (ACT), working under cover in a variety of roles.
SA Wittman’s investigation of a theft at the Pennsbury Manor, the historical home of William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, resulted in the first prosecution and convictions under the federal Theft of Major Artwork Statute (18 USC 668). Other highlights of his most recent recoveries include one of the original 14 copies of the Bill of Rights, which is valued at $30 million. The original had been sent to North Carolina for ratification in 1789 and was later stolen by a Union soldier during the Civil War. Wittman led an international undercover operation that netted $50 million worth of paintings stolen from a private estate in Madrid, including two paintings by Goya. He was involved in another undercover operation responsible for the recovery of Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait” which was stolen from the Swedish National Museum in Stockholm and valued at $36 million. SA Wittman recovered three of five Norman Rockwell paintings stolen from a private gallery in Minneapolis from a farmhouse in Brazil. Also in South America, he led the operation to return a 2,000 year-old golden Pre-Columbian piece of body armor known as a “Backflap,” created by the ancient Moche people and looted from the Royal Tomb of the Lord of Sipan in Peru. For his efforts, the President of Peru awarded Wittman the “Peruvian Order of Merit for Distinguished Service.” In 2004, the Smithsonian Institution presented SA Wittman the “Robert Burke Memorial Award for Excellence in Cultural Property Protection” at the National Conference on Cultural Property Protection in Washington, D.C.
He has given presentations at the American Association of Museums (AAM) Annual Conference; National Conference on Cultural Property Protection at the Smithsonian Institution; the International Conference on Museum Security (ICOMS) in Basel, Switzerland; the J. Paul Getty Museum; Philadelphia Museum of Art; the San Diego Museum of Art; the Princeton Art Museum; the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Cincinnati Art Museum; the Museum of Fine Art, Boston; the Minneapolis Institute of Art and many others.
"US vs. Art Thieves: Tales from the FBI's Real Indiana Jones"