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Gardner art heist masterpieces have been sighted, FBI agent says

The FBI agent in charge of the investigation into the theft of $500 million worth of masterpieces from a Boston museum nearly a quarter century ago says the bureau has confirmed sightings of the missing artwork from credible sources.

MyFoxBoston.com first reported that FBI Special Agent Geoff Kelly, who lead the international investigation for more than 10 years, says the trail for the missing artwork has not grown cold.

"We believe that over certain periods of time, this artwork has been spotted," Kelly told the station. "There have been sightings of it, confirmed sightings." 

He identified three persons of interest, two of whom died, and all with reported links to organized crime. The one surviving person, Robert Gentile, 78, has denied any knowledge of the missing work, the report said.

The heist is something out of a Hollywood thriller. It was the morning of March 18, 1990, and two men disguised as police officers arrived at the Isabella Gardner Museum. They claimed to be responding to a report of a disturbance.

The suspects, described as white men in their 30s, took advantage of the inexperienced security guards and tied them up. In 81 minutes, the suspects, who police say had "inside knowledge" of the museum's surveillance system, exited with 13 pieces of art, including Rembrandt's "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee" and Vermeer's "The Concert." It was considered the most expensive collection of stolen artwork in history.

Though the thieves clearly planned out the heist, authorities called them inexperienced art thieves, resorting to box cutters to remove paintings from frames.

Kelly said in the late 1990s, two FBI informants told law enforcement that Carmello Merlino was preparing to return Rembrandt's “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” in an effort to collect the reward.

However, Merlino and his crew were soon arrested in an aborted armored car heist and the painting was never returned, MyFoxBoston.com reported. Kelly suspects one of the persons of interest, the late Robert Guarente, somehow passed control of the stolen Gardner artwork to Gentile, the report says

But a 2012 search of Gentile’s home in Manchester, Conn., yielded no sign of the stolen artwork. Gentile, through his lawyer, denied having any connection to the Gardner art heist or with moving the artwork after the fact.

Authorities have said the artwork is likely stashed away and is of little value to the thieves because "there is no market for it."

Another case of great magnitude occurred in France in May 2010, when a masked man broke into Paris' Musée d'Art Moderne overnight and left with five famous works, including Picasso’s "Le Pigeon aux Petits Pois" and Matisse's "La Pastorale." French authorities are reportedly still searching for the suspect, who they believe acted alone, and have said the treasured artworks cannot be sold due to their very fame.

Click for more from MyFoxBoston.com

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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