MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A $3 million painting stolen from a Europe art museum. A Bonnie-and-Clyde crime. A lengthy FBI investigation. It had all the trappings of a heist from Ocean’s Eleven.
On Tuesday, undercover agents arrested 46-year-old Marcuello Guzman, of Miami, and 50-year-old Ornelas Lazo, of Mexico City. The two were charged with transporting and possessing a painting valued at $3 million.
Believed to be an original Henri Matisse, the pricey painting was reported stolen from a Caracas, Venezuela art museum in December 2002, almost ten years ago.
The FBI then began a lengthy investigation into the painting’s disappearance.
According to the complaint affidavit, Guzman had admitted during a meeting with undercover agents that he knew the painting was stolen. During that same meeting, Guzman negotiated the sale of the painting, offering to sell it for $740,000. Guzman further agreed to have the painting transported by courier from the U.S. to Mexico, where the painting was being stored.
The trick: Lazo, Guzman’s partner-in-crime, was the courier.
Armed with an acknowledgment of possessing stolen property, FBI agents then lured Guzman and Lazo to Miami in mid-July to sell the painting.
The pair took the bait.
Lazo arrived at the Miami International Airport from Mexico City on Monday, hand-carrying a red tube containing the painting. On Tuesday, Guzman and Lazo met with undercover agents and showed off the Matisse painting from inside the red tube. Upon inspection by the undercover agents, the painting appeared consistent with the original Henri Matisse painting reported stolen from the Venezuela museum.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Guzman and Lazo were arrested.
Guzman and Lazo made their first appearances in federal court today. A pre-trial detention hearing is scheduled for Friday, July 20, 2012 at 1:30 p.m. If convicted, the defendants each face a possible maximum statutory sentence of up to ten years in prison.