Charge in Art Heist


By Kathryn G. Menu

On Friday, a 24-year-old Medford man was indicted on charges that he stole over half a million dollars in art and other fine goods from homes on the North and South Forks, selling some of the items at a fraction of their value before a North Fork art dealer became suspicious and contacted police.

Angel Palencia was indicted on six counts of burglary in the second degree and one count of grand larceny in the second degree for his alleged involvement in a rash of art thefts that occurred between January 12 and February 28, according to the Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota.

Palencia pled not guilty to the charges on Friday, although according to the district attorney’s office some of the stolen goods were found at his home and he provided detectives with a full written confession after his arrest on April 6.

According to the District Attorney’s office, Palencia told investigators he committed the crimes because he needed money.

In total, the art taken during the thefts and recovered so far by police are valued at $553,000. “In the Vineyard,” a painting by Daniel Ridgeway-Knight taken from a Lily Pond Lane, East Hampton home is valued at $140,000 alone.

Police said Palencia also stole a mirror, a Peacock lamp from a Southold home that has yet to be recovered, an outdoor sculpture, jewelry, as well as a silver tea set and French stamp collection that were recovered from his Medford home.

The district attorney’s office said they also recovered artwork that was not connected to these burglaries. They suspect once summer arrives and second homeowners return to their residences more burglaries will be reported to local police.

According to the district attorney’s office, Palencia was connected to at least two residences involved in the thefts. He had worked as a painter at a Rocky Point, Shelter Island home and knew where the spare key was located, said police and had been a carpenter at a Southold residence that was burglarized, gaining entry through an unlocked window.

In his confession, the district attorney’s office said Palencia told investigators about two locations where he sold stolen goods. Those included a Mineola antiques and fine arts shop that bought the $140,000 Ridgeway-Knight painting for $1,500, as well as four of the six other paintings stolen from the Lily Pond Lane, East Hampton residence for $2,400.

Attorneys representing that store also turned over additional artwork they retrieved from an unknown location. The remainder of the artwork, said police, was recovered at Palencia’s Medford home.

According to the district attorney’s office, an investigation is ongoing in respect to the criminal liability of shop owners and those who worked with them.

However, it was “an honest art collector” that the district attorney’s office said enabled police to make an arrest in the case.

The dealer, who asked his identity be protected, said that in December of 2010 Palencia brought him “a truckload” of artwork that he declined to purchase. The dealer was contacted again and offered new artwork in January, and once more in April.

On April 5, the dealer said Palencia showed him five pieces of artwork from the East Hampton burglary. While researching the artwork, the dealer discovered they were reported stolen and contacted police.

Working with Southold Town detectives, a sting operation was set up ending in Palencia’s arrest.

While Palencia has maintained he was working alone, the district attorney’s office said on Tuesday that they do not believe that to be the case, citing the mere size of some of the paintings.

No additional arrests have been made.

Following his indictment, Palencia has been incarcerated in lieu of $500,000 in cash bail at the county jail.