Former FBI agent on the Art of the Steal

Former FBI agent on the Art of the Steal
Robert Wittman, a former FBI agent specializing in art theft, shares 20 years’ worth of stories of crime and cultural artifacts to those gathered at Cherry Hill’s Woodcrest Country Club on June 2. Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

Robert Wittman, a former FBI agent specializing in art theft, shares 20 years’ worth of stories of crime and cultural artifacts to those gathered at Cherry Hill’s Woodcrest Country Club on June 2.
Photo by Alan M. Dumoff

CHERRY HILL — What do Apache Medicine Man Geronimo’s eagle feather war bonnet, Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait” and the Bill of Rights have in common?

For Robert Wittman these cultural artifacts tell the story of humanity over the ages. Responsible for the recovery of these stolen items (an estimated $1.2 million value for the war bonnet, $36 million for the Rembrandt, and $30 million for one of the 14 original copies of the Bill of Rights), as an FBI agent specializing in art theft, Wittman has been called “the FBI’s Indiana Jones.”

Sans fedora and whip, Wittman discussed his work here at Woodcrest Country Club on June 2, at a reception sponsored by Discovery Ministries, Inc.

A former senior investigator and founder of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Art Crime Team, Wittman began his career with the FBI in 1988, assigned to the Philadelphia Field Division. In his 20-year career, he recovered more than $225 million worth of stolen art and cultural artifacts.

Today, he runs his own security and consulting firm dealing with the protection and recovery of art investments; he assists auction houses, collectors, galleries, and nations in preserving their cultural effects.

“It is so important to be able to know” about a past society, that created paintings and other items, without the use of technology like smartphones and computers, he said to a crowd of almost 100 people.

“It’s important to know what things actually looked like, not to mention the fact that it just shows the talents of individuals throughout the years,” he added.

After his presentation, Wittman greeted guests and signed copies of two of his latest books, “Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures,” and “The Devil’s Diary: Alfred Rosenberg and the Stolen Secrets of the Third Reich.”

Introducing Wittman for the presentation was Msgr. Michael Mannion, advisor to the board of trustees for Discovery Ministries, Inc., which provides social, recreational and spiritual experiences for families with chronically ill children or special needs children at its Discovery House in Batsto.

“Many of us take art for granted, and Bob’s talk gave us a deeper insight in the beauty and power of art to touch people’s lives, and to communicate the power of God’s presence and love, grace and truth in a special way,” Msgr. Mannion said.

“His experiences of dedicating his life to recovering stolen art have been inspirational,” he added.

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