House painter arrested in high profile art theft

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Not quite as slick as the Thomas Crowne Affair, 42-year-old Joselito Vega, embarked on his own art heist, but he was busted by several law enforcement agencies, who banded together in what they’re calling “Operation to Catch a Thief.”

Investigators said Vega raised suspicions after being hired to work at the Schulhof Estate in Kings Point as a painter more than a year ago.  During a recent inventory, it was discovered three pieces of art, worth about $85,000, were missing. While one group of detectives tracked a piece by Jean DeBuffet from Kings Point, NY to Oakland California to Monaco in the French Riviera, another group set up an extensive surveillance system and hired Vega once again at the Estate for an April 29th sting operation.

It didn’t take long for detectives to catch Vega in the act, red handed, as he sorted through pieces of art and inspected each before taking three pieces and stashing it in his SUV.

Valued at over $50,000, detectives said Vega sold the Jean DeBuffet for less than $10,000 and cashed his check from the sale in Brooklyn under an alias.

The Schulhof family is well known in the art world, philanthropists and art collectors since the 1950s and are said to have a collection of 20th century paintings, known as the Schulhof Collection that could generate millions of dollars.  It’s still unclear at this point how much of that knowledge Vega really even had.

Vega faces charges of grand larceny, money laundering and identity theft in both Brooklyn and Nassau County.  He is being held on a million dollars bond.