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In March of 1990, two thieves posing as Boston police officers entered the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and stole thirteen works of art including masterpieces by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Edgar Degas, and Edouard Manet. Now known as the greatest art heist in history, the case has remained unresolved despite the countless hours of investigating the FBI has conducted. While the Bureau has offered immunity to anyone who assisted in the recovery of the artworks, they have never received a concrete lead.

While it would appear that the reputed organized crime figure, Robert V. Gentile, who found himself in federal court this Wednesday on drug trafficking and gun possession was irrelevant to the Gardner case, the FBI believed Gentile had vital information to share. Gentile, 76, of Manchester, Connecticut, helped federal authorities for 10 months prior to his arrest but none of the information was useful in tracking down the thieves. Gentile’s lawyer claims that his client did know some of the individuals the government believed were involved in the heist, but that most of them were dead by now. Gentile now faces a maximum of 150 years in prison if he is convicted. The government is willing to negotiate his sentence so that his prison term will be reduced to 46-57 months.

Gentile became involved in the Gardner case when Elene Guarente, the widow of Robert Guarente, a mob associated who died in 2005, told investigators that her husband gave Gentile a painting that he had kept in a tube since the 1990s.

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Law enforcement officials descended today on a Manchester, Conn., house, digging in the yard of Robert Gentile, an alleged mobster who officials suspect may have information about the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum art theft.

Frances Drive was choked with unmarked police vehicles and television news crews and their vehicles, a resident said in a telephone interview this morning.

“It’s kind of hard to get in and out,’’ the neighbor said. “It’s kind of annoying.’’ She added, “It’s a quiet neighborhood. I’ve never seen anything like this.’’
Gentile’s attorney, A. Ryan McGuigan, said today that the FBI is leading the search.

“They have brought with them a ground-penetrating radar device, as well as two beagles and a ferret, to look for what they say are weapons. But we all know what they are actually looking for -- and they are looking for the paintings,” McGuigan said.

Tom Carson, a spokesman for the US attorney’s office in Connecticut, declined comment on the search in an e-mail.

“The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum does not have any comments about the Robert Gentile case,” the museum said in a statement. “The Museum continues to offer a $5 million reward for information leading to the recovery of the artworks in good condition. Anyone with information about the theft, the location of the stolen artworks, and/or the investigation, should contact the Gardner Museum.”

Authorities have said that at least two men dressed as police officers talked their way into the Gardner on March 18, 1990, tied up the security guards, and left with 13 masterworks, including three by Rembrandt and five by Degas. Some of the stolen pieces could sell for $50 million on the open market, art experts say.

Despite an intensive search by law enforcement, no one has ever been charged in the case and none of the paintings have ever been recovered.

Gentile has been jailed on federal drug charges in what McGuigan has characterized as an effort to pressure the 75-year-old man into admitting he has information about the Gardner robbery when he does not.

“This case comes down to the fact that this guy sold his own painkillers to some kid who was working for the FBI, so they could search his house,’’ McGuigan said. “It’s a ruse.”

The neighbor said she knew Gentile and his wife, both of whom have been in the home for many years. She said she was concerned for the well-being of Gentile’s wife, who has continued to live in the home since her husband was taken into federal custody earlier this year.

“They are very nice people, very quiet people,’’ the neighbor said.

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