A 29-year-old Greek man who said he realized as soon as he stole a Salvador Dali painting from a New York gallery last year that it was mistake and anonymously mailed it back nonetheless pleaded not guilty to grand larceny charges on Feb. 20.
Police said Phivos Istavrioglou, who was captured on security cameras taking the painting, also left fingerprints that helped detectives track him down.
In a confession contained in court papers, he reportedly said that after he stole the painting, Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio, off the wall and walked out that he “was scared and couldn’t believe what a stupid thing he did.” It is valued at $150,000.
During a brief appearance in a Manhattan court, a judge set bail for $100,000. The defendant’s lawyers said nothing during the session. Prosecutors said he stashed the painting in a shopping bag and flew with it back to Athens, authorities said, before realizing his image had been captured and he then mailed it back in a cardboard tube.
“It was almost surreal how this theft was committed — a thief is accused of putting a valuable Salvador Dali drawing into a shopping bag in the middle of the afternoon, in full view of surveillance cameras,” District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said, the Associated Press reported.
New York Police Department detectives lifted fingerprints from the shipment that matched one from a juice bottle that they say Istavrioglou shoplifted last year from a Whole Foods market, giving them a name, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said.
An investigator posing as an art gallery owner later tricked Istavrioglou into returning to New York by offering him a possible position as a consultant. Federal agents intercepted Istavrioglou at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Feb. 16. While speaking to detectives that afternoon, court papers say, he “indicated he knew the theft would catch up to him and wants to make (the) situation right.”