Updated at: 05/09/2013 3:05 PM
By DAVE COLLINS
(AP) HARTFORD, Conn. - A reputed Connecticut mobster was sentenced Thursday to 2 1/2 years in prison in a weapons and prescription drugs case that revealed federal authorities’ belief that he knows something about the largest art heist in U.S. history.
A prosecutor disclosed at the hearing in U.S. District Court that Robert Gentile, 76, failed a polygraph test when asked if he knew the whereabouts of paintings worth an estimated $500 million that were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in 1990.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Durham said there was a 99 percent chance that Gentile was lying when he denied knowing where the paintings were, according to the polygraph expert.
Durham also said that when federal agents searched Gentile’s house in Manchester last year, they found a handwritten list of the stolen paintings and their estimated worth, along with a newspaper article about the heist a day after it happened.
No one has been charged in the art theft, and the heist was never mentioned in any public court documents filed in Gentile’s case. The paintings have never been found.
Two men posing as police officers stole 13 pieces of artwork including paintings by Rembrandt van Rijn, Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas and Johannes Vermeer. FBI officials said earlier this year they believe they know who stole the paintings but still don’t know where the artwork is.
Searches of Gentile’s home also turned up an arsenal including several handguns, a shotgun, five silencers, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, homemade dynamite and a bulletproof vest, prosecutors said.
Gentile pleaded guilty in November to illegally selling prescription drugs and possessing guns, silencers and ammunition. He has been detained since his arrest in February 2012.
With credit for time already served and good behavior, U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny said Gentile could be released from prison within the next 10 to 12 months. He would then face three months of home confinement as part of a three-year period of supervised released.
Gentile broke down in tears and couldn’t finish speaking while telling Chatigny how much he loved his wife. Dressed in tan prison clothing and sporting a gray goatee, he made no mention of the art heist or the mob during a brief speech.
"I’ve worked hard all my life and I supported my family," Gentile said, adding that his careers included pouring concrete and later owning a restaurant and car dealership.
"My wife’s very sick. I love her more than anything," said Gentile, who then appeared overwhelmed by emotion, sat down and didn’t say anything else.
Both Gentile and his wife, Patricia, who’ve been married for 54 years, suffer from heart problems and other ailments, according to court documents.
Durham had sought a sentence of more than four years, calling Gentile a dangerous member of the mob who was caught on secret recordings by an informant talking about his associations with other mobsters including Boston’s James "Whitey" Bulger. He declined to elaborate on those associations.
"He’s 76 years old, but he’s engaged in a lifetime of crime," Durham said. "He’s a member of La Cosa Nostra."
Gentile’s lawyer, A. Ryan McGuigan, insisted that Gentile wasn’t a made member of the mafia and knows nothing about the Boston art heist. He also questioned the validity of the polygraph test.
"It wasn’t a legitimate polygraph examination. It was an interrogation," McGuigan said outside the courthouse.
He told the judge that the art heist had nothing to do with Gentile’s weapons and prescription drugs case.
"It’s the guilt by association that’s an issue," McGuigan said. "He doesn’t want to have to pay for the sins of other people."
McGuigan added, "He would like to be sentenced for what he actually did."
The lawyer said the handwritten list of stolen paintings and newspaper article about the art heist were given to Gentile by another person for him to pass on to a third person and that Gentile didn’t know why.
Besides the arsenal of weapons, Gentile and a co-defendant, Andrew Parente, were charged with selling dozens of prescription drug pills including Dilaudid, Percoset and OxyContin. Parente also has pleaded guilty and is set to be sentenced later this month.
Chatigny, the judge, noted that Gentile’s criminal record includes several convictions for theft, weapons and other charges, but none since 1996. He said he was giving Gentile less prison time than prosecutors wanted because of Gentile’s age and his wife’s need for his support and care.
But, Chatigny said: "The items you possessed reflect your ongoing involvement in a world that is on the wrong side of the law. The government’s case is overwhelming. I do not see evidence of genuine remorse."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)