The clue — a simple fingerprint on a juice bottle stolen from Whole Foods — was routine. But that, along with some creative undercover work, helped the authorities unravel the brazen daylight theft of a Dali drawing from an Upper East Side gallery that had gone unsolved for months.
The mystery began in June when, in front of security cameras, a man grabbed the drawing by the surrealist artist Salvador Dali, “Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio”, valued at about $150,000, stuffed it into a bag and walked out past several guards. It deepened days later, when the drawing was found in a cardboard shipping tube at Kennedy International Airport, apparently mailed back by the suspect.
On Tuesday, the suspect was identified by the Manhattan district attorney as Phivos Istavrioglou (29). His address was listed as Milan. He pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to one count of second-degree grand larceny. His lawyer was not immediately available for comment.
Officials said they had Mr. Istavrioglou’s fingerprint from an arrest in January 2012, in which they said he stole food and drinks from a Whole Foods market in Lower Manhattan. In their investigation into the art theft, they found that Mr. Istavrioglou had searched the Internet for reports about the robbery after it took place but before the story became news.
The drawing was boldly taken June 19 from the Venus Over Manhattan gallery on Madison Avenue. After surveillance images of the suspect were released, the drawing was anonymously sent back to the gallery a few days later by Express Mail from Greece. It was found at the airport, where it was about to be sorted for delivery. After the police identified Mr. Istavrioglou as a suspect, an undercover New York police detective posing as an art gallery manager was able to lure him to New York from Europe with the offer of a job, the authorities said. He was arrested at Kennedy Airport on Saturday.
“It was almost surreal how this theft was committed,” Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney, said in a statement. “Today’s indictment brings us one step closer to bringing an international art caper to a close.” — New York Times News Service