Robert “The Cook” Gentile, who may have been the last living mobster with clues to the Gardner Museum art heist, dies
Robert V. Gentile, the Hartford geriatric gangster whom authorities have suspected for years of hiding clues to solve the world's richest art theft at the Gardner Museum, has died, several sources said on Wednesday.
Gentile, 85, who died on September 17 at Hartford Hospital, where he was being treated for a possible stroke, was possibly the last person alive to know what happened to $ 500 million in missing art - including Vermeer's "The Concert ". and Rembrandt's "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee" - which disappeared after two gangsters disguised themselves as police officers and broke into Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in March 1990.
Gentile, on a file from the Eisenhower administration, admitted to being associated with gangsters who the FBI believed were in possession of some of the art. But he stubbornly denied others' claims that he owned two of the pieces, at least briefly.
Investigators have been trying non-stop to get Gentile to talk for the past decade. He refused to cooperate, even though he was assured that he would not be charged. He said in interviews that he didn't trust the FBI and he rolled his nose at millions of dollars in reward money and said he didn't think he'd ever get it if he talked. He has been silent for the past decade as agents repeatedly arrested and imprisoned him in their futile efforts to persuade him to open it.
During the same period, investigators almost dismantled Gentile's modest ranch house in Manchester in repeated searches. They found cash, drugs, what a judge called a virtual armory, and a list of stolen Gardner artwork with estimated black market values - but not art.
Gentile's attorney said he consistently denied anything to do with the robbery or the stolen art.
"For the past 11 years I have represented Robert Gentile, allegedly the last known person to own the stolen paintings," said defense attorney A. Ryan McGuigan. “I was once told by the government that he was a dangerous man. A bad man. And he deserved what was done to him. I never agreed. I only saw one older man kicked while on the ground. He was a friend. I am proud to have known him and proud to have defended him. Mr Gentile's family asked for privacy during this difficult time. "
Gentile had been in precarious health for years. While incarcerated for gun and drug offenses for the past decade, he rolled around the prison in a wheelchair and suffered from a variety of illnesses. At some point during his various incarcerations, he was almost fatally taken from a Rhode Island prison to a nearby hospital and from there to a federal prison medical facility, where he lost about 40 pounds and recovered. A non-Jewish employee said Gentile, who considers himself a foodie and uses the nickname “The Cook,” once vowed to “eat himself to death” if he were ever cornered by the FBI.
Anthony Amore, the Gardner Museum security director who works closely with the FBI, expressed his condolences to Gentile's family and said anyone with information that could lead to the restoration of the art should call the FBI or the museum. Gardner investigators had been monitoring Gentile and his health since he was last released from prison and returned to his Manchester home in 2019. His possible involvement was prominently highlighted in the recent Netflix special "This is a Robbery".
There is hope among investigators that death could trigger a new development that could provide new clues about the fate of art.
Gentile was known for years, but was largely ignored by the FBI mob investigators and the state police, who branded him a penny horse. Unknown to the Connecticut authorities, however, he had teamed up with a Boston Mafia group suspected by hidden microphones, staff and other evidence, and had taken possession of some of the artwork from the men who stole it.
Gentile's first contact with the Boston group was with the notorious Boston gangster Robert "Unk" Guarente, a well-connected Boston bank robber and drug dealer whom he met at a used car auction in South Windsor in the 1970s. In 2010, Guarente brought Gentile to the center of the Gardner study.
That year, Gardner investigators were in Maine tracking down Guarente who they believed had managed to control at least part of the art. He was a well-connected Boston bank robber and drug dealer known by the nickname "Unk". Guarente had died of cancer six years earlier, but FBI investigators were tracking down that he had brought at least some of the art to his farmhouse in the woods north of Portland before his death.
A search of the farmhouse was unsuccessful. But the investigators have a break when they return the keys to his widow Elene Guarente. After initially denying that she had even noticed the Gardner Museum, she blurted out inexplicably and completely unexpectedly: "My Bobby had two of the paintings."
In subsequent interviews, she said that her husband kept the paintings in Maine and that he decided to give them to an employee after he was last released from prison.
She said Guarente put the paintings in her car and they drove to Portland, where Guarente had a date with another couple, Gentile and his wife, at a downtown hotel. After the couples sat down on the bank for dinner, she said the men paused and gone outside and Gentile took possession of the two paintings.
Gentile admitted to being friends with Guarente and meeting him for lunch in Portland. But he denied taking the paintings, claiming those who said he did were "helpers" trying to claim the multi-million dollar reward.
"Everything is lies," he said in an interview. "You have no evidence."
The Elene Guarente outbreak put Gentile in the FBI's crosshairs, and he became one of the most investigated men in the country. He initially agreed to work together, but federal prosecutors tore up the cooperation agreement after catching him lying to a grand jury investigating the theft.
Gentile next underwent a polygraph exam in which he denied knowing beforehand about the Gardner robbery, ever owning a Gardner painting, or knowing the location of any of the stolen paintings. The result showed a greater than 99.9 percent probability that he lied, according to a government motion in federal court.
The Gardner Museum, an Italian palazzo in Boston's Fenway, was robbed in the early morning of March 18, 1990 as the St. Patrick's Day celebrations across Boston came to an end. The thieves in police uniforms bluffed in, handcuffed the guards, beat and slashed the walls and frames of some of the world's most famous works of art, and disappeared.
They took 13 pieces. The art was uninsured under the terms of the legacy that created the museum, and empty frames now hang where art was exhibited.
Despite the reward and promise of no-questions-asked immunity to anyone who returns the art, the investigation has consistently hit dead ends, in many cases as promising targets die out in the aging New England gangster circle.
Gentile was perhaps the last.
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