Man linked to $500M art heist getting mental evaluation

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A reputed Connecticut mobster who authorities say is the last surviving person of interest in the largest art heist in U.S. history is now undergoing psychological testing to see if he is competent to stand trial on unrelated weapons charges.

The evaluation of 80-year-old Robert Gentile began last week at the federal medical center prison in Butner, North Carolina, and is expected to conclude Jan. 19, according to a court document filed this week in federal court in Hartford.

The testing comes three months after the Manchester man was reported to be near death due to a series of health problems. Gentile’s lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, said Friday that Gentile’s health remains fragile but he is no longer close to dying.

Prosecutors have said they believe Gentile has information about the still-unsolved 1990 heist at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. Thieves stole an estimated $500 million worth of artwork, including works by Rembrandt, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas and Johannes Vermeer. No one has been arrested.

Gentile was targeted by federal authorities after officials said a gangster’s widow claimed her husband gave Gentile two of the paintings. Prosecutors also said that Gentile talked about the stolen paintings with fellow prisoners and that he once told an undercover FBI agent he had access to two of the paintings and could negotiate the sale of each for $500,000.

Gentile, however, has publicly denied knowing anything about the art heist. In October, McGuigan said he visited Gentile when Gentile was near death at a hospital and his client still insisted he didn’t have any information about the paintings.

A spokesman for the Connecticut U.S. attorney’s office, which is prosecuting Gentile on weapons charges, declined to comment Friday.

Federal agents have searched Gentile’s home several times in what McGuigan believes were attempts to find some of the paintings, or evidence connected to the heist. Authorities said they didn’t find any of the paintings, but seized numerous firearms and ammunition at Gentile’s home earlier this year.

In May 2013, Gentile was sentenced to more than two years in prison for illegally selling prescription drugs and possessing guns, silencers and ammunition. In that case, prosecutors said federal agents found in Gentile’s home a handwritten list of the stolen paintings and their estimated worth, along with a newspaper article about the museum heist a day after it happened.

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