Reputed gangster Robert Gentile, who authorities suspect has information about the irreplaceable art that vanished in a sensational theft from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, pleaded not guilty in federal court in Hartford Monday to three new weapons charges.
The 75-year-old Gentile, white-haired, overweight and apparently in frail health, needed help from his lawyer to hoist himself to his feet in court before he pleaded not guilty to two charges of possession of handguns and ammunition by a felon and one of possession of unregistered silencers.
FBI agents found the weaponry during a search of Gentile's suburban Manchester home on Feb. 10, the same day they accused him of selling illegally obtained prescription pain medication to a law enforcement informant.
Gentile's lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, claims his client knows nothing about the March 18, 1990, heist — which included three Rembrandts, a Vermeer, a Manet and five drawings by Degas — and that federal authorities are "piling" charges on Gentile to put pressure on him.
"The government is torturing an old man in poor health in a futile attempt to extract information that doesn't exist," McGuigan said.
The Gardner heist, the largest and most expensive ever, devastated the art world. Over the ensuing 22 years, investigators around the world have developed nothing but theories about who was involved. What happened to $500 million or more of art is a mystery.
Federal authorities began watching Gentile in the 1990s when he became associated with a crew of drug dealers and armored car hijackers operating in the Boston area, according to a variety of sources and FBI records. In 1998, Gentile became a sworn member of a mob crew in Boston that was affiliated with the dominant mafia family in Philadelphia, the sources said.
For years, the FBI and other investigators have pressed an investigative theory that Gentile was associated with criminals who may have had information about some of the paintings after the heist.
FBI agents and federal prosecutors in Boston and New Haven has been questioning Gentile for years. He has consistently denied knowledge of the Gardner job, according to the sources.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham, who is prosecuting Gentile on the drug and weapons charges, refused Monday to link Gentile to the Gardner paintings. During an earlier court appearance, Durham said of Gentile: "The government has reason to believe that Mr. Gentile had some involvement with stolen property out of the District of Massachusetts."
Gentile could face dozens of years in prison as a previously convicted felon if sentenced to maximum terms on the drug and weapons charges. Gentile, who has an arrest record for relatively minor offenses dating back decades, has claimed through his lawyers to be in the used car business.