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A truck driver is alleged to have stolen a $1.5 million painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat from a Virgin Atlantic cargo area in Kennedy Airport earlier this month and his arrest Monday was made easy thanks to video surveillance, Queens DA Richard Brown said.Anthony Porcelli, 35, of Staten Island, was making a delivery around 2:30 p.m. on May 4 when he noticed a wooden crate labeled "painting" by a nearby dock, the DA told a news conference. But he was not aware that the crate contained an untitled 1982 oil and acrylic painting by the Brooklyn-born artist, according to Detective Michael Marmino. "He didn't know he hit the lottery with this. ... It was a matter of opportunity," Marmino said.Basquiat, who died at the age of 27 from a heroin overdose, is considered to be one of the most influential painters of the 1980s. His painting called "Catharsis" brought $1.2 million and led the sales at a contemporary auction last week in Manhattan.Brown said Porcelli surrendered Monday morning at Port Authority headquarters at JFK and was being charged with grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property. He faces 25 years in prison if convicted.Video surveillance of the cargo building is what led authorities to target Porcelli, who works for Cace Trucking, Inc., based in Elizabeth, N.J., Brown said. Marmino said the painting was locked up in the back of a company warehouse, unopened. Marmino pointed out that Porcelli worked for Cace for seven years. "Everybody did a great job in recovering what is obviously a very valuable work of art," Brown said.The painting, which was sold at the auction house Christie's in November to a buyer from Rome, was to be shipped to the Italian city via London, Brown said, where it was to be showcased at a London art show this week. Marmino said that while Porcelli would have had a hard time selling the painting due to various art registries, he could have cashed in by selling the painting on the black market.Basquiat, who died in 1988, started out as a graffiti artist under the tagline "SAMO" and his work was displayed all over the city. His work is currently being showcased at the Brooklyn Museum until June 5.
©2005 Community Newspaper Group
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