John Tlumacki  /  AP
Robert M. Mardirosian, who acknowledged that he secretly held stolen paintings for nearly 28 years, in his Falmouth, Mass., home where he now works as an artist.
updated 2/1/2006 3:31:05 PM ET 2006-02-01T20:31:05

A retired Massachusetts lawyer says he secretly held seven stolen paintings, including a Paul Cezanne still-life worth millions of dollars, for 28 years because he wanted a 10 percent finder’s fee.

The paintings, including Cezanne’s “Bouteille et Fruits,” had been stolen from a collector’s home in the Berkshires in 1978.

Robert M. Mardirosian, the retired lawyer, said the work was left in a bag in his attic by a client he was representing in another case.

“He was going to bring them to Florida to fence them, but I told him that if he ever got caught with them with the other case hanging over his head, he’d be in real trouble,” Mardirosian said in Wednesday’s Boston Globe. “So he left them upstairs in my attic in a big plastic bag.”

When Mardirosian said he discovered the paintings in 1979, the alleged thief, David Colvin, had been shot to death by two men seeking to collect on a debt. The lawyer said he considered returning the works to their owner, Michael Bakwin of Stockbridge, but changed his mind when he discovered that none of the art had been insured.

Mardirosian, 71, hid the paintings in Monaco and then in a Swiss bank while he said he worked to recoup 10 percent of their value from Bakwin. He set up a shell company to facilitate a trade or sale.

Judge: Defendant owes $3 million
A lawsuit filed last year by Bakwin and the Art Loss Register, a London-based company that tracks stolen artwork, led to a hearing Tuesday in London, during which Mardirosian was identified as sole owner of the shell company, Erie International.

The judge ruled that Mardirosian was responsible for paying an estimated $3 million in court, legal, and investigative fees accumulated by Bakwin in trying to get his paintings back.

“I know some things don’t look good here, but I believe I have a legitimate case to make,” Mardirosian said. “I could have sold these a dozen times, but never did. My whole intent was to find a way to get them back to the owner in return for a 10 percent commission.”

The other works include two portraits by Chaim Soutine and two by French painters Maurice de Vlaminck and Maurice Utrillo.

The chairman of Art Loss Register, a London-based company that tracks stolen art, said he hopes the FBI investigates Mardirosian role in the theft.

“Mardirosian should have surrendered these stolen pictures as soon as he knew of their location,” said Julian Radcliffe, chairman of the Art Loss Register. “We will be providing all the help that we can to the FBI.”

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