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And the Academy Award for Stupid Thefts Goes to . . .

March 18, 2000|MONTE MORIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pity the crook who carted off those unmarked crates of Oscar statuettes from a loading dock: Maybe they thought those shrink-wrapped boxes held computers, VCRs or auto parts--quick cash on the black market.

Boy, were they wrong.

What they hauled away instead was 500 pounds of Tinseltown's greatest dreams, a police investigation complete with a 24-hour tip hotline and a $50,000 bounty for their arrest.

At a news conference at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Friday, officials said the thieves stood a slim chance of ever selling 55 of the world's most recognizable film awards. The academy has publicized a 24-hour tip line if anyone tries.

"I think it's going to be fairly hard to fence an Oscar this morning," said Bruce Davis, the academy's executive director. "I think the message we want to give them is that they can simplify their lives a great deal right now if they got these back to us."

Davis, who met with reporters in Beverly Hills, said the disappearance of the statuettes from a shipping company warehouse in Bell would not derail the Academy Awards on March 26. R.S. Owens Co., the company that makes the Oscars, is making a new batch in time for the ceremony, he said, and the new Oscars will be flown by jet under heavy security.

The Academy has asked the Los Angeles Police Department to investigate, and the FBI said Friday that there was a possibility it would look into the matter as well. The Bell Police Department has never been contacted about the loss, a spokesman said.

The statuettes vanished from a shipping company loading dock March 8, but police told academy officials to keep quiet for fear that publicity would complicate their investigation, Davis said. Officials from the shipping firm, Akron, Ohio-based Roadway Express, declined to comment. The firm has offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

Unlike last year's Academy Awards ceremony, where the newly minted Oscars were shipped in an armored car as a publicity stunt, this year's statuettes were simply trucked by Roadway to its Bell warehouse.

"They were in unmarked cartons, I doubt they knew they were stealing Oscar statuettes," Davis said. "They probably picked the cartons up and were quite surprised to find what was inside."

Davis, who is handling the theft in good humor, said each of the boxes weighed 50 pounds and was probably loaded into a truck with a forklift.

The missing Oscar statuettes are made of high-grade pewter coated with copper, nickel, silver and gold, and the lot of them cost the Motion Picture Academy $18,000. They were not yet engraved with the winners' names. Officials said this was the first time a shipment of Oscars was hijacked prior to the awards ceremony. At Friday's news conference, Davis urged anyone with information on the statuettes to contact the LAPD at (213) 485-2505.

Although Davis said FBI art theft specialists would assist in the investigation, an FBI spokesman said Friday that it has not yet entered the investigation. However, an investigator in the FBI's Los Angeles office agreed with Davis' opinion that the Oscars would be difficult to sell now.

Oddly, the disappearance is the second Oscar mishap to occur this month and the second to occur in Bell as well.

Sacks containing 4,000 Oscar ballots were misrouted after delivery to the Beverly Hills post office by an accounting firm March 1. The ballots were eventually found at a bulk mail facility in Bell--a facility different from the one Roadway uses.

Davis said it appeared to be just a coincidence, but an odd one at that.

"We've told Billy Crystal not to go anywhere near Bell, Calif.," Davis joked of the award show's master of ceremonies. "It seems to be kind of a Bermuda Triangle for Oscar things."

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