Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Jeffrey C. Mazanec, Acting Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, announced the arrest and the filing of criminal charges against Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, 46, of Miami, Florida, and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, 50, of Mexico City, Mexico, for transporting and possessing what is believed to be an original Henri Matisse painting, “Odalisque in Red Pants,” which was reported stolen from a museum in Caracas, Venezuela. If convicted, the defendants each face a possible maximum statutory sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Marcuello Guzman and Ornelas Lazo, who were arrested in Miami Beach, made their first appearances in federal court today. A pre-trial detention hearing is scheduled for Friday, July 20, 2012, at 1:30 p.m.
According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, this case was the result of an FBI undercover investigation. According to the allegations in the complaint affidavit, Marcuello negotiated the sale of the Matisse painting, which had been previously stolen from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art [Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas (MACCSI)] in Caracas, Venezuela, in December 2002. The painting is valued at approximately $3 million. Marcuello allegedly admitted to the undercover agents during a meeting that he knew the painting was stolen and offered to sell the stolen painting for approximately $740,000. As part of the negotiations, Marcuello further agreed to have the painting transported by courier to the United States from Mexico, where the painting was being stored. The courier was subsequently identified as co-defendant Ornelas.
According to the affidavit, on July 16, 2012, Ornelas arrived at the Miami International Airport from Mexico City, Mexico, hand-carrying a red tube containing the painting. On July 17, 2012, defendants Marcuello and Ornelas met with undercover agents and produced the Matisse painting titled “Odalisque in Red Pants” from inside the red tube. Upon inspection by the undercover agents, the painting appeared consistent with the original Henri Matisse painting reported stolen from the MACCSI museum. At the conclusion of the meeting, Marcuello and Ornelas were arrested.
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the FBI. Mr. Ferrer would also like to thank the Department of Justice Attaché in Mexico City and the Legal Attachés in Caracas and Mexico City. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Elisa Castrolugo.
A criminal complaint is only an accusation, and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.