A thief who allegedly managed to steal a Salvador Dali painting from a New York art gallery and escape with it to Greece got tripped up by fingerprints he left behind on groceries he is accused of shoplifting from a Manhattan food store, authorities claim.
Phivos Istavrioglou, 29, of Greece, thought he made a clean getaway when he pulled Dali's "Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio" off the wall of an elite Manhattan gallery last June and put it into a shopping bag. The next day, he boarded a plane back to Greece with the $150,000 painting, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office.
The heist had been caught on gallery surveillance cameras, and New York police soon distributed the images of Istavrioglou worldwide to aid in his capture.
"Clearly seeing himself and realizing the hunt was on, the defendant blinked," assistant district attorney Jordan Arnold said in court Tuesday.
"In a manner befitting a college dorm poster, the defendant rolled the 1949 Dali drawing into a cardboard tube and anonymously mailed it back to New York," he said.
The fingerprints on the artwork that arrived back in New York matched a set of fingerprints in the NYPD's system showing that the Dali thief was the same man who had been arrested in January 2012 for stealing the groceries from a Whole Foods grocery store.
In that case, a store detective watched Istavrioglou put the groceries in a backpack and then attempt to walk out of the store without paying, according to a police report from the crime. The store detective stopped Istavrioglou and called police, who brought Istavrioglou to the police station where they took fingerprints.
"The fingerprint shows, as he admitted, that he not only stole the Dali, but also mailed it back," Arnold said.
Police set up a sting in which undercover officers disguised as gallery workers invited Istavrioglou, then in Europe, to come to New York to work for an art gallery. When Istavrioglou got off his plane at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, he was arrested, according to the district attorney's office.
Istavrioglou's attorney, David Cohen, did not immediately return calls for comment.
According to a statement from the District Attorney's office, Istavrioglou confessed to stealing the painting during a taped deposition with investigators. He was charged with grand larceny.
"It was almost surreal how this theft was committed – 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," said District Attorney Vance.
"This brazen heist from a Manhattan gallery is the latest in a string of cases involving theft or fraud in the art world that my Office has prosecuted. Today's indictment brings us one step closer to bringing an international art caper to a close," Vance said.