SW Legal studies in Business

"Title" from Owner of Stolen Property to Possessor Does Not Make Possession Legal
Description

Appeals court upheld conviction of an attorney who was in possession of paintings he knew were stolen. He got the rightful owner to give him title to some of the paintings in return for one. Since that agreement was for an illegal purpose, the title was invalid and he was guilty of possession of stolen property.

Topic Criminal Law
Key Words

Stolen Property; Art; Void Contract

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

In 1978, seven valuable paintings were stolen from Bakwin's home. Investigators suspected Colvin, who was represented by criminal defense attorney Mardirosian in another matter. Colvin was killed and the art theft investigation stalled. Mardirosian got the paintings after Colvin's death. He stored them in a vault in Switzerland. In 1999, through a third party, he contacted Bakwin. In exchange for an affidavit stating that he legally owned six paintings, he would return a Cezanne painting, which was worth the most. Bakwin agreed to the deal, got the Cezanne back, and sold it for $29 million. In 2005, Mardirosian sent the other six paintings to Sotheby's in London to sell. Bakwin sued Sotheby's to enjoin the sale. A grand jury indicted Mardirosian in Massachusetts and, in 2008, a jury convicted Mardirosian of possession of stolen property. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and ordered to return the paintings to Bakwin. He appealed, contending that the affidavit of ownership made him the legal owner of the paintings, so he could not be guilty of possession of stolen property.

Decision

Affirmed. Possession of six stolen paintings was not made legal by the alleged contract in which he agreed to return one painting in exchange for receipt of title to the other six paintings. The agreement was void as a contract for an illegal purpose. The jury found that Mardirosian knew the paintings were stolen, which was sufficient to satisfy the mens rea requirement. Possession of the paintings was a continuous crime not extinguished by a statute of limitations.

Citation

U.S. v. Mardirosian, ---F.3d--- (2010 WL 1463249, 1st Cir., 2010)

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