A Greek man was arrested Saturday at John F. Kennedy International Airport for stealing a Salvador Dalí painting. Phivos Istavrioglou, 29, was involved in what has been described by authorities as “an inept attempt” to steal a watercolor by the famous artist from a New York gallery in June 2012. In front of security cameras and in broad daylight, Istavrioglou took the painting, “Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio,” valued at about $150,000, and walked quickly out of the Madison Avenue gallery where it hung, reports the New York Times. A few days later, notes the Times, the missing artwork was found at JFK in a shipping tube, “apparently after being mailed back by the suspect.”
New York City police investigators matched Istavrioglou’s fingerprints left on the cardboard tube with those from a January 2012 arrest for shoplifting from a Whole Foods market in lower Manhattan in. Investigators also discovered that Istavrioglou had scanned the Internet for news of his theft after he’d left the gallery but before the story hit the headlines, writes the New York Times. After the police traced him to Europe, an undercover detective posing as an art gallery manager succeeded in convincing him to come back to New York under the premise of a job offer.
Istavrioglou pleaded not guilty on Tuesday to grand larceny in a Manhattan courtroom, saying he regretted his decision to steal the Dalì work soon after leaving the gallery. By the time he’d reached Fifth Avenue he “was scared and couldn’t believe what a stupid thing he did,” writes the Guardian. His bail has been set at $100,000. “It was almost surreal how this theft was committed,” district attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr said, according to The Guardian. “A thief is accused of putting a valuable Salvador Dalí drawing into a shopping bag in the middle of the afternoon, in full view of surveillance cameras.”