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4 Officers Accused in Theft of Dali Sketch From Jail

June 18, 2003|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Four veteran corrections officers staged a phony fire drill at the Rikers Island jail to steal a $250,000 Salvador Dali sketch from the jail's lobby, then replaced it with an unframed copy, prosecutors said Tuesday.

The untitled sketch of the crucifixion has not been seen since March 1, hours after a fire drill at the city jail gave the officers the chance to lift it from a locked display case, prosecutors said. The work was replaced with a copy, with a frame drawn around its edges, they added.

The four men surrendered to authorities Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to grand larceny. They were suspended without pay. If convicted, they each could face up to 15 years in prison.

Assistant Deputy Wardens Benny Nuzzo, 49, and Mitchell Hochhauser, 40, were the masterminds behind the plan to steal the artwork, which they believed they could sell for $1 million, said Assistant Dist. Atty. Wanda Perez-Maldonado.

She said they decided to steal the sketch and recruited Officers Timothy Pina, 44, and Greg Sokol, 38, who stood guard near it. Dali did the sketch in 1965 as a favor to an ex-corrections chief.

Sokol has agreed to testify against the other three, and all four are on audiotape discussing the theft, Perez-Maldonado said.

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