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Saturday, August 1, 2020

The Great Milwaukee Stradivarius Heist

     At twenty after ten on the night of January 27, 2014, violinist Frank Almond, the concertmaster of the Milwaukee Orchestra, walked toward his car in the parking lot outside Wisconsin Lutheran College's auditorium where he had just performed a chamber concert. As the 49-year-old musician neared his car, a man emerged out of the darkness and stunned him with a taser gun. Almond and his violin fell to the ground. The robber picked up the 300-year-old Stradivarius and jumped into a minivan driven by a woman.

     Almond's Lipinski Strad had been given to him on "permanent loan" in 2008 by an anonymous patron. As one of 650 of Antonio Stradivari's instruments still in existence, the stolen violin was valued at $5 million.

     Milwaukee detectives immediately began viewing surveillance camera footage in search of clues. FBI agents assigned to the bureau's art theft unit were dispatched to act as consultants in the case. Investigators notified authorities with Interpol in the event the thieves tried to sell the stolen violin in Europe. A $100,000 reward went up for any information leading to the recovery of the instrument.

     On Monday, February 3, 2014, Milwaukee detectives assigned to the high-profile case arrested two men and a woman. One of the men, 41-year-old Salah Salahadyn, had pleaded guilty in 2000 to possessing a $25,000 sculpture that had been stolen from a Milwaukee art gallery in 1995. The judge sentenced him to five years in prison.

     The second man taken into custody, a 36-year-old suspect who goes by the name Universal Knowledge Allah, has no criminal record. Both suspects were charged with robbery, an offense in Wisconsin that can bring up to 15 years in prison.

     Court Commissioner Katherine Kucharski set Salahadyn's bail at $10,000, an extremely low amount given the fact Salahadyn had a lengthy criminal history that included bail jumping. The magistrate set Allah's bond at $500.

     Charges against the suspected female get-a-way driver were dropped. The authorities had not released this woman's name.

     On Wednesday, February 5, 2014, two days after the arrests, Milwaukee chief of police Edward A. Flynn announced that one of the suspects had led detectives to the stolen Stradivarius. The violin was found in a suitcase in the attic of a house in Milwaukee. The stolen instrument had never left the city. (Perhaps the woman driver in the case was the one who cooperated with detectives in return for her dropped charges.)

     In July 2014, Universal Allah was sentenced to three and a half years in prison. The Milwaukee County judge, in November 2014, sentenced Salah Salahadyn to seven years behind bars.

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