In 1988, several expensive paintings and sculptures—including a work by Marc Chagall called Othello and Desdemona—were stolen from a New York City apartment. One of the thieves, a worker in the building, was ultimately arrested, but the stolen Chagall painting didn’t surface again until this year, when a man finally came forward, revealing he’d stowed the artwork away in his Maryland attic. After 30 years, the Justice Department filed a complaint on Thursday seeking authority to return the recovered Chagall to the estate of the painting’s late owners. The artwork was recovered after the FBI’s Art Crime Unit received a tip from the man in possession of the stolen painting. The 72-year-old man, who is terminally ill, obtained the painting through his connections to Bulgarian organized crime. The building worker who had stolen the painting had trouble selling it off, and enlisted the unnamed man’s help—but when it became clear he was getting cut out of the deal, the man tucked it away in his attic, where it remained for years. The man tried selling it to a Washington, D.C., gallery, but couldn’t produce documents of ownership and authenticity. He eventually called law enforcement, determined to “clear his conscience and make things right,” according to FBI Agent Marc Hess. The original owners are long dead, but the painting—now worth millions—will be sold at auction, according to the estate’s attorney. The painting was originally bought from Chagall himself for $50 in 1913.
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