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California Briefing / Laguna Beach

Alleged art thief arrested in Vegas

February 26, 2009|Susannah Rosenblatt

Authorities Wednesday arrested a fugitive living under an alias in Las Vegas, a decade after he allegedly stole more than a quarter of a million dollars' worth of art from Laguna Beach galleries, officials said.

Joseph Michael Killebrew, 50, was charged with four counts of grand theft and faces a maximum of eight years and four months in prison.

According to Orange County prosecutors, Killebrew reported to San Diego police in April 1999 that crystal, sculptures and oil paintings were missing from his San Diego County home. He collected more than $260,000 from his insurance company for the reported loss.

Three months later, Killebrew reportedly bought $261,000 worth of original oil paintings from three Laguna Beach galleries, plus $108,000 in works from a West Hollywood gallery.

Killebrew paid for the art with personal checks, on which he then stopped payment, prosecutors said. A separate warrant was issued by authorities in Los Angeles County for that theft.

When the galleries contacted Killebrew to collect the money, he said he had to leave the state for a family emergency. Authorities said he then fled California.

Killebrew was arrested at home in Las Vegas, where he was living as "Michael Palmer"; he apparently still had the Orange County paintings as well as the other items he reported stolen 10 years ago.

-- Susannah Rosenblatt

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