Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Lawyer, the Fence

The which is nominated for a Webby and deserves it, (go vote for them) has this extraordinary account that sounds like a sequel to the Thomas Crown Affair (a very cool movie whihever versio of it you see.)  Here's their account which I believe they derived from the Assoicated Press:

Robert Mardirosian's client was an art thief who pulled off one of the biggest art heists in US history..

When David Colvin brought the paintings which included a Cezanne still life which eventually sold at auction years later for nearly $30 million—to Mardirosian shortly after the 1978 heist, the lawyer initially [hid] them for safekeeping[.]

[At some point, the thief] Colvin was shot to death in 1979.   [His lawyer, Robert Mardirosian] apparently succumbed to the temptation of trying to cash in on their extraordinary value. He held the paintings until 1988, then shipped them to a Swiss bank, according to prosecutors and the appellate opinion. After cutting a deal to return the Cezanne in order to obtain legal title to the other paintings, which were of far lesser value, Mardirosian finally tried to sell them in London, anonymously, approximately a decade ago.  That led to his arrest and federal conviction for possessing stolen property which had crossed a United States boundary. Yesterday, the appellate court upheld Mardirosian's conviction and seven-year prison term, finding the retired attorney's argument that he believed he had legal title to the paintings unpersuasive.

Contracts entered into for illegal purposes are void, the court pointed out. And, whether or not Mardirosian really believed that he had subsequently obtained legal title to the paintings, he could not and did not claim that he had acted innocently when he kept them after his client died rather than contacting authorities.

"We know of no case—certainly, none has been cited by the parties—that has recognized a mistake-of-fact defense once all the elements of the crime have been met. Although we are hesitant to announce categorically that we would never extend the doctrine, the facts of this case illustrate why we would be reluctant to to do so, and why we will not do so here," the court writes.  "Were we to recognize subsequent mistakes of fact, sophisticated criminals would have the incentive to generate reasons to believe that their conduct is no longer wrongful. Like Mardirosian, some might seek to 'contract' with their victims and could use more violent means of persuasion. We could not countenance such a result"
Now, here's the honest to God, truth, this lawyer committed a crime when he took the art work originally.  This is no different than laundering drug money through a turst account, stolen art work is the proceeds of  criminal activity and the lawyer was receiving stolen property,

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