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Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Santa Monica Art Heist

     A burglar broke into investment fund manager Jeffrey Gundlach's Santa Monica mansion sometime between 3 PM September 12 and 8 PM September 14, 2012. The intruder made off with $10 million worth of art as well as bottles of rare wine and several expensive watches. The burglar returned to the scene a few hours after the initial break-in to steal Mr. Gundlach's red 2010 Porsche Carrera 4S.

     Investigators did not reveal how the thief gained entry, or how the intruder circumvented the home burglary alarm system. Moreover, there was no information released regarding how the thief knew the art was in Gundlach's dwelling. The house burglar also knew to strike when Gundlach was on a business trip.

     Following the heist, Jeffrey Gundlach offered a $1 million reward for one of the paintings as well as a separate $500,000 for information leading to the recovery of another piece of art.

     On September 26, 2012, detectives in Pasadena called the Santa Monica burglary squad regarding a tip they had recieved about the location of some of the stolen paintings. According to the tipster, most of the stolen art was being held at Al and Ed's Autosound Store in Pasadena. Detectives executed a search warrant at the store that led to the recovery of several of Mr. Gundlach's paintings.

     Following the Pasadena search, officers arrested the store's 45-year-old manager, Jay Nieto. A Los Angeles County prosecutor charged Nieto with receiving stolen property and possession of stolen items.

     Shortly after Nieto's arrest, detectives recovered four of the stolen paintings from a house in San Gabriel owned by 40-year-old Wilmer Cadiz. Cadiz was charged with the possession and receipt of stolen property.

     Nieto and Cadiz's cooperation with investigators led to the arrest, on January 4, 2013, of a known burglar named Darren Agee Merager. Charged with first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property, the 43-year-old Merager faced up to nine years in prison.

     The Los Angeles prosecutor also charged Merager's 68-year-old mother, Brenda Merager, and his two brothers, Wanis and Ely Wahba, with receiving stolen property. According to detectives, Merager's mother and his brothers had tried to sell some of the loot. Eventually the prosecutor dropped the charges against the mother.

     On January 22, 2014, Jay Nieto and Wilmer Codiz each pleaded no contest to one count of receiving stolen property. In return for their pleas, the judge sentenced each man to three years probation.

     The Wahba brothers also pleaded no contest to receiving stolen property. A judge sentenced them in April 2014 to probation.

     The burglar and car thief, Darren Agee Merager, pleaded guilty on January 22, 2014 to first-degree residential burglary and receiving stolen property. The judge sentenced him to four years in prison.

     All of the wealthy financier's paintings, as well as his Porsche, were recovered in good condition. (I don't know abut the watches and the wine.) Breaking into middle class homes and selling off the loot--usually TVs, computers, jewelry and guns--is not that difficult. But high-end mansion burglaries like this case often unravel when thieves try to convert the extremely valuable merchandise into cash. Also, when there are several thieves involved in the caper, chances are someone will talk too much, and when brought in by detectives for questioning, snitch on the others in return for a plea deal. 

2 comments:

  1. A curious thing, but in 2005 I received a letter from Darren Merager, who at that time was serving time in a California State Prison in Solano. I don't know him, but was bewildered that someone in prison arbitrarily selected me from a list of Re/Max Agents in Beverly Hills. In the letter, dated October 23, 2005, he is asking me to provide Beverly Hills real estate information north of Wilshire Blvd. only. He also asked that I send him books, such as Christies Great Estates, etc.
    I kept the letter and one day in 2014 I found the envelope and decided to google Darren and found an article from the LA Times about a man sentenced for art theft from bond trader Jeffrey Gundlach.
    I just love the randomness of the universe, because here I am writing about this in 2016, 11 years later.

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  2. +1. He also sent me a letter from Vacaville when I was selling real estate. He wrote asking me to send him listings around $2.5 M mark (I figured he was delusional, but sounds more like a con artist or maybe bipolar). Also kept the letter and was curious if he was still doing time. Not surprised he re-offended. This is why prisons should rehabilitate offenders.

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