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Forest Hills resident allegedly steals more than $600K in artwork


Dec. 14, 2016 By Hannah Wulkan

A Forest Hills man was charged last week with stealing more than $600,000 worth of artwork from his employer and could face up to 10 years in prison.

Leon Zinder, 48, was arrested at his Forest Hills home on Friday for stealing and selling more than a dozen pieces of Native-American and African ethnographic artwork and transporting some of them across state lines.

Zinder was an art handler for a New York based art management company from July 2010 to April 2012, during which time he stole 13 works of art, according to the US Attorney’s office Manhattan.

Several of the pieces Zinder stole were from the company’s Greenwich, Connecticut offices, which he then transported to Manhattan, including a Fang Reliquary Guardian Head statue valued at approximately $85,000, a Native American mask valued at approximately $75,000, and a Pende mask valued at approximately $5,000.

From September 2015 to October 2016, Zinder allegedly sold, or attempted to sell, the artwork through a dealer operating out of a flea market in Lower Manhattan. He then made up reasons for having the art, claiming he had obtained the works from both the elderly widow of a sheriff in Phoenix, Arizona, and from a storage-unit close-out sale.

The art dealer eventually became aware that several of the pieces Zinder had sold through him were reported stolen by the company.

“This case was brought forward to the FBI by an art dealer who started to realize these stories were too good to be true,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York offices William F. Sweeney Jr.

The dealer assisted in the investigation and turned over many of the stolen pieces of art.

“This Office, working with our law enforcement partners at the FBI, have helped recover and return countless works of stolen art and artifacts to their rightful owners.  And today, we do so again, as well as seeking to hold the alleged thief accountable,” said U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara.

Zinder was charged with one count of interstate sale of stolen property, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the amount of money he made or lost for the company from the sales, whichever is greater.


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