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Tracing the path of 2 purloined violins

After they were taken from the home of an L.A. musician, the instruments, police say, were flown to Europe by a small-time crook.

March 13, 2007|J. Michael Kennedy and Achrene Sicakyuz | Times Staff Writers

PARIS — As police from two continents tell the story, he was a small-time crook who flew to Europe with two stolen violins worth $300,000 and his dog Jumper.

He landed in Amsterdam and traveled by train to Paris, where he began making the rounds of music shops in hopes of selling the violins, stolen just before Christmas from one of the senior musicians of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

On Thursday, Paris police arrested Anthony Eugene Notarstefano, 42, of Los Angeles as he left a Paris violin shop, a French police official said Monday. He was caught on the Rue de Rome, one of several hillside streets lined with shops that make and sell instruments behind the Saint-Lazare train station and not far from the Paris Opera concert hall and the Moulin Rouge cabaret.

Retailers grew suspicious as the man went from store to store on a rainy afternoon offering to sell both violins for a total of about $65,500, according to the French police officer. Using the Internet, shop owners discovered that the violins had been reported stolen and alerted police, who nabbed Notarstefano coming out of a store about 4:30 p.m.

The instruments were stolen from Mark Kashper, 53, a violinist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, whose house was robbed Dec. 23.

One violin is an 18th century Tononi that belongs to the Philharmonic and is valued at about $225,000. The other is an 1855 Vuillaume that Kashper owned, worth about $65,000. A still-missing bow for the Tononi is valued at about $30,000.

Los Angeles Police Detective Don Hrycyk, an art fraud specialist who investigated the theft, said arrangements are now being made for the return of the violins.

"The French are being helpful in trying to expedite the matter," Hrycyk said. "It's a matter of taking care of administrative stuff to clear the way."

French Consul Philippe Larrieu said Monday that his office would help coordinate the return of the violins to the United States.

Kashper said Monday that he had no firm word on the condition of the violins, stolen while he and his wife were away from home for the night.

"It's very good news to hear that they have been found," he said. "I can't wait to see what kind of condition they are in. I'm just assuming they aren't in little pieces if he was trying to sell them."

Adam Crane, a spokesman for the Philharmonic, said: "The main thing is that the violins have been recovered."

And Lt. Paul Vernon, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department, said the violin dealers showed "a great deal of honesty and integrity. They could have had the violins for a song."

After his arrest, Notarstefano was handed over to the Brigade de Repression du Banditisme, the anti-robbery branch of the Paris investigative police. He was interrogated by detectives who specialize in thefts of art and objects of cultural value. In the presence of an interpreter, Notarstefano refused to cooperate or to sign statements that the police presented him, the official said.

"He was determined not to play ball with us," a French police official, who asked not to be identified, said.

But the suspect did tell detectives that he had sold all his belongings in the United States, where he is well known to California police, and moved to Europe, according to the police official. Notarstefano said he intended to live on the money he would make from the sale of the violins, the official said.

But the suspect denied knowing that the instruments were stolen, claiming he had bought them from someone he vaguely knew for $15,000.

"He told us this complicated yarn about how he had bought the violins," said the police official.

According to the Los Angeles police, Notarstefano is a "career criminal from the Los Angeles and Long Beach area with a lengthy arrest and prison record."

A check of Notarstefano with Los Angeles County Superior Court records reveals a number of convictions, most of them small-time offenses, that include burglary, petty theft and credit card fraud.

It is not clear whether the suspected thief planned to live in France, but he had been living in a hotel in Amsterdam, the police official said.

On Friday, he appeared before a judge and remains in custody pending further investigation. Jumper's whereabouts are unknown.

Hrycyk said he is sure one of the violin dealers will be able to claim the $10,000 reward put up for the return of the Tononi.

"Someone has already called from Paris claiming to be responsible, but we're pretty certain it was someone else."

michael.kennedy@latimes.com

achrene.sicakyuz@latimes.com

Kennedy reported from Los Angeles and Sicakyuz from Paris.

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