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Details grow blurry as authorities probe Pebble Beach art theft

Two men claim paintings were stolen. 'They're clearly lying to us,' said Cmdr. Mike Richards of the Monterey County Sheriff's Department.

October 09, 2009|Steve Chawkins

Like an Impressionist painting, the outlines of a massive art theft in Pebble Beach have blurred over the last week as the victims offered varying accounts of just what was stolen and how much it was worth.

But the changing details brought the situation into sharp relief for law enforcement officials.

"They're clearly lying to us," said Cmdr. Mike Richards of the Monterey County Sheriff's Department, raising questions about whether two men sharing a rented $4-million home in a gated community ever actually possessed the Rembrandts, the Jackson Pollock, the Van Gogh and the other works they say have gone missing.

Angelo Amadio, 31, and his housemate, a retired Boston oncologist named Ralph Kennaugh, have been named as suspects in the Sept. 25 crime -- though officials are still up in the air about just what they're suspected of having done. Neither has been charged and both deny any wrongdoing.

"We've repeatedly requested identifying information -- records of sale, contact information for the dealers, authentication material -- but they're not giving us anything," Richards said. "We're frustrated at their lack of cooperation."

The case has taken some unusual twists, with the Pebble Beach pair accusing the Sheriff's Department of "incompetence and corruption" as officers accuse them of fabricating the $80-million heist -- right down to the broken window lock that purportedly allowed the thieves into their home. Works worth a total of $72,000 were insured but the rest were not, largely because the landlord refused to allow an appropriate alarm system, Amadio said in an interview.

"What reason would we have for filing a phony claim on uninsured artwork?" he asked. "It's absurd."

Amadio said ample documentation, including a statement from an insurance agent who specializes in art, will be produced today at a "rebuttal press conference" in Santa Cruz. He said some material has been shared with authorities and some, stored on a laptop computer, was lost in the theft. Richards, the Sheriff's Department spokesman, said Thursday that the department has not received even a list of the missing works that was sent to news organizations earlier in the day.

"We believe this is a hoax," he said.

Richards also cast doubt on what was called a ransom note that showed up at the residence, a typed, two-line message demanding money and threatening the housemates with death. It included no information on where or how the ransom was to be paid, he said.

In an interview, Amadio said Monterey County authorities have bungled the investigation from the start. A law student who clerks for attorney Vicki St. John, Amadio said a detective opened the probe by quizzing him about one of his boss' cases, a wrongful arrest claim involving the Sheriff's Department.

"The very first question they asked pertained to that client," he said. "It was just disgusting."

Richards said it was Amadio who brought up that case.

In addition to studying law, Amadio has an investment business with Kennaugh. Before that opened, Amadio said, he ran a number of ventures, including raising and selling dogs. In an interview with the Monterey Herald, he said several complaints that he had run a puppy mill were unfounded.

Kennaugh has been an avid collector for more than 30 years, said Amadio, who described the two as having been in the wholesale art business until about 2004. The collection was recently shipped to California from Boston, he said.

The case has raised eyebrows in the art world.

"Art thefts are almost always crimes of opportunity," said Marion Maneker, editor of Art Market Monitor. "The James Bond idea of wealthy men lusting after objects and sending out professionals to boost them is the stuff of the movies."

The investigation is continuing, Richards said.

"If someone steals your car, wouldn't you tell police what kind of car it was, what color it was, the license plate number? That's all we're asking of them."

--

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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