2011 Top Story No. 6: Art theft case solved, mostly

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | Former Southold Police Chief Ty Cochran stands in front of one of the stolen pieces of art.

In the unusual theft of close to $600,000 of artwork from East End homes last winter, police identified a suspect, who admitted to the thefts and pleaded guilty to all counts, and most of the works were recovered and returned to their owners.

Still, investigators might never know what really happened last January and February when the 30 pieces were pinched from affluent homes in Southold, Shelter Island, Southampton and East Hampton.

From the first police didn’t think Angel Palencia, 24, of Medford, could have carried out what appeared to be a carefully planned, sophisticated operation on his own.

“Nobody believes that this defendant was working by himself,” said Suffolk District Attorney Tom Spota during a press conference announcing the arrest.

But if there were others involved, Mr. Palencia, who always maintained he worked alone, is keeping those names to himself as he begins the six-year sentence for multiple felony counts of burglary and grand larceny handed down by County Court Judge Stephen Braslow on Dec. 14. He entered guilty pleas a month earlier.

Mr. Palencia, had worked at several of the homes from which art was stolen. He was employed by a painting contractor on the North Fork and was a carpenter on Shelter Island.
There was no evidence of forced entry at any of the homes and property owners said their windows had been locked and their alarms set.

“It’s possible he did have help with it, but there’s nothing we could confirm,” said Southold detective Ned Grathwohl, a member of the team investigating the thefts. “It could have been just him, but that seems unlikely.”

And with no new leads to follow, police consider the case closed.

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