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Retired Doctor Indicted in Stolen-Artworks Scam

November 18, 1998|JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A federal grand jury on Tuesday indicted a retired Beverly Hills ophthalmologist for an insurance scam in which he allegedly conspired to have two artworks stolen from his home so he could pursue a false claim.

The long-expected indictment of Steven G. Cooperman charged him with 16 counts in connection with the disappearance of a Picasso and a Monet he'd had insured for $12.5 million.

When two insurance companies balked at paying, Cooperman sued them and eventually settled for $17.5 million, according to the indictment. In a civil declaration in the case, he stated, "I did not plan, stage or in any way participate" in the theft.

But the indictment alleges Cooperman and unnamed co-conspirators had arranged to have the paintings ripped off so he could file a fraudulent claim. The indictment was returned six years to the day after he filed a lawsuit against the insurers.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Richard Robinson declined to name Cooperman's alleged co-conspirators but said the investigation will continue.

Federal agents found the missing works--Pablo Picasso's "Nude Before a Mirror" and Claude Monet's "Customs Officer's Cabin at Pourville"--in a rented locker in the Cleveland suburbs in February 1997.

Cooperman is retired and living in Connecticut.

His Los Angeles attorney, Melissa Widdifield, said the doctor "maintains his innocence and is going to vigorously fight the charges."

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