Major break in investigation Jeffrey Gundlach art heist

10 January 2013

Prosecutors announced last week a major break in the investigation of an art heist from the Southern California home of art collector Jeffrey Gundlach, charging six people with burglary and other offenses stemming from the caper.

The six pleaded not guilty in Los Angeles Superior Court to charges of burglary, conspiracy, receiving stolen property and being an accessory after the fact.

The paintings, along with luxury watches, bottles of fine wine and Gundlach's red Porsche sports car were taken from his Santa Monica home in February 2012. The overall value of the stolen property was put at $3.2 million.

Gundlach had offered a reward of $1.7 million for tips that would lead to the safe return of the art pieces taken, which consisted of rare, one-of-a-kind works by contemporary painter Jasper Johns, the late Dutch abstract artist Piet Mondrian and several other artists like Frank Stella, Franz Kline, Guy Rose, Philip Guston and Hanson Duvall Puthuff.

The suspected burglar, Darren Agee Merager, 43, is accused of breaking into the Gundlach residence between September 12 and September 13 to steal the art collection, jewelry and wine, then returning hours later to make off with the Porsche.

Most of the partings were recovered about two weeks later from an automobile stereo shop in the Los Angeles suburb of Pasadena. The store's manager, Jay Jeffrey Nieto, 45, is accused of helping conceal the stolen art and other items.

Merager's 68-year-old mother, Brenda Joyce, and two younger brothers, Wanis George Wahba, 29, and Ely George Wahba, 26, were charged as co-conspirators. Another man, Wilmer Bolosan Cadiz, 40, was charged with conspiracy and receiving stolen property.

Cadiz and Nieto originally were arrested as suspects in the break-in and theft, but police said then that the case remained under investigation and they were unsure who had committed the actual burglary.

Merager, who already was in custody in an unrelated case and has a history of felony convictions, faces more than nine years in state prison if convicted in the Gundlach heist, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office said.

Read also: 01/10/2012: Jeffrey Gundlach's stolen artworks have been found; 2 suspects charged
Read also: 25/09/2012: Art collector offers $1.7 Million reward for stolen art

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