The Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced today the return of approximately 120 stolen historic artifacts to the Polish Museum of America (PMA). The artifacts, which were believed to have been removed from the PMA sometime in the 1970s or 1980s, were recovered by the FBI in 2011 from a Chicago residence.
The artifacts consisted of many items of correspondence dating back as far as 1646, to include letters sent to and from Polish kings, American presidents, a French emperor, and prominent Revolutionary War figures. The collection also includes rare prints and sketches, Polish military medals and memorabilia, as well as World War II artifacts. The collective value of the artifacts being returned today has been estimated at approximately $5 million.
The investigation that led to the discovery of the artifacts was initiated by the PMA, who had been notified by a Chicago coin and antiques dealer that documents traced to the PMA had been sold to the dealer. According to the dealer, the sellers of the documents reported that they had found them in the basement of a house in which they were tenants. The dealer conducted his own research, and after learning that the documents belonged to the PMA, notified the PMA that the documents had come into his possession. Upon learning of the documents being sold to the dealer, the PMA in turn contacted the FBI, and an investigation was initiated.
During the course of the investigation, the FBI recovered additional documents and artifacts from the residence and determined that the residence in which the artifacts were discovered was owned by the mother of a former curator at the PMA. However, additional investigation could not establish the date at which the artifacts disappeared from the PMA, nor the person or persons responsible for removing them from the PMA. As a result, no one was charged in connection with the disappearance of the artifacts, and no criminal prosecutions will be forthcoming in the Northern District of Illinois in connection with the theft, transportation, or possession of the artifacts.
Established in 2004, the FBI’s Art Crime Team is a rapid deployment team composed of 14 special agents assigned to various FBI field offices across the country who have received specialized training in art and cultural property crime investigations. The Art Crime Team has been responsible for the recovery of more than 2,650 items valued at over $150 million. Additional information about the FBI’s art theft program, located at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C., is available at www.fbi.gov.