NEW YORK – A doorman who works across from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art found a painting outside his building and kept it for weeks, then realized it was a missing work at the center of a bizarre legal web and turned it in to investigators this week, an official said.
"Portrait of a Girl," painted in the mid-1800s by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, vanished in late July after a middleman showing the work to a prospective buyer at a Manhattan hotel several blocks from the doorman's building claimed he got drunk and lost it.
One of the owners sued him over the loss, then dropped the case. The other owner was recently indicted in federal court on wire fraud conspiracy charges, accused of lying about the painting's value and trying to defraud an investor.
A doorman at a building not far from the hotel showed up at a police precinct house Sunday with the painting, a law enforcement official said. He told officials that he found it outside and had it for weeks until he read news reports upon returning from vacation and turned it over, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was still in progress.
He was questioned and released, and the information was given to federal authorities. FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said the painting had been recovered. News of the discovery was first reported in The New York Times.
While the doorman had the painting, one of the owners, Kristyn Trudgeon, sued the middleman, James Carl Haggerty, for losing the work.
The other owner, Trudgeon's boyfriend Thomas Doyle, was later indicted on wire fraud charges and accused of lying to an investor about the value of the art. His attorney says he is not guilty.
The painting, circa 1857, is of a young girl with wide, sad eyes and a black frock, and is valued at between $500,000 and $700,000. It was initially reported as worth $1.3 million.
According to Trudgeon's now-dismissed suit, Doyle lined up Haggerty to take the canvas to the hotel for the potential buyer to examine July 28. The buyer didn't want it.
Security cameras showed that the buyer left the hotel, and that Haggerty lingered in the hotel bar for more than an hour and left with the painting. Haggerty claimed he drank too much and forgot what happened to the painting.
The FBI began investigating after Trudgeon sued. She abruptly abandoned the lawsuit this month after learning — when reporters showed her a prison mug shot — that Doyle had pleaded guilty in 2007 to stealing an Edgar Degas sculpture from a wealthy collector. Trudgeon's lawyer didn't specify her reasons for dropping the case but said she was exploring other "potential legal remedies."
The attorney, Max Di Fabio, didn't immediately return a call Thursday.
Doyle was accused in federal court of misrepresenting the sale price of the painting to the co-buyer in Japan and to the operator of an art gallery in Vancouver, British Columbia, who acted as the co-buyer's broker.
Doyle remains in jail at least until a bail amount is set. His attorney, Kevin Keating, said it was great news that the portrait turned up. The doorman was not at his building Thursday.
Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.