A Guatemalan man suspected in a string of East End art burglaries pleaded not guilty Friday morning to a grand jury indictment for six counts of burglary and one count of grand larceny.
Authorities say Angel Giovanni Palencia, a 24-year-old and Medford resident, burglarized a total of six homes in Southampton Village, East Hampton Village, Southold and Shelter Island in January and February, stealing somewhere between $550,000 and $600,000 in art and other valuables, such as a sterling silver tea set and a stamp collection.
All in all, Palencia is suspected to have stolen more than 40 artworks and valuables. Some of the works reported stolen have yet to be recovered while some recovered artworks are not from any of the reported burglaries, said Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota during a press conference following Palencia's arraignment at Suffolk County Criminal Court in Riverside. Spota said he expects that second-home owners will return to their East End estates this summer and discover art has gone missing.
Work recovered during the investigation were displayed at the press conference. Many were appraised in the tens of thousands of dollars, and a painting titled "In the Vineyard" by Daniel Ridgway Knight, stolen in East Hampton, was valued at $140,000.
Palencia was connected to the art thefts when a Southold art dealer who he tried to sell paintings to learned the works were stolen, according to authorities. Palencia tried on three occasions to sell art to the dealer, the first time in December 2010, telling him he had helped a man clean out a basement and he gave him the art, Spota said. That occasion came before the six reported East End burglaries, which all occurred in January or February.
The dealer declined to buy anything from Palencia in December and again in January. The third time, on April 5, the dealer, who wished not to be named, called an appraiser who informed him the artworks had been reported stolen, Spota said. With the dealer's consent, police recorded a conversation between him and Palencia, during which Palencia tried to negotiate the sale of the paintings, authorities said.
During the arraignment, Palencia spoke through an interpreter that Judge Stephen Braslow requested. Prosecutor Nancy Clifford, the deputy bureau chief of major crime, said Palencia had no problem speaking English when he tried to sell the paintings.
Palencia was represented by court-appointed attorney John Halverson of the Law Offices of Stephen McGiff, a Patchogue firm.
Clifford requested bail be set high because of the strength of the case and certainty of conviction, and because he has a Guatemalan passport. She said Palencia had a 2007 conviction for driving while ability impaired.
Judge Stephen Braslow ordered Palencia held on $500,000 cash bail during his arraignment Friday, though the bail was moot. Authorities said Palencia is in the United States illegally and there is an Immigration and Customs Enforcement hold on him.
At the press conference, Spota said all of the burglarized homes had locked windows and alarms, though none of the alarms were set off. He said Palencia admitted being previously familiar with some of the homes he burglarized; he did carpentry work at a Southold home and painted at a Shelter Island home. But Palencia said he chose other houses at random, a contention Spota said investigators do not believe, adding that they suspect Palencia did not act alone.
In addition to trying to sell art in Southold, Palencia successfully sold works to two Nassau County art dealers.
According to the grand jury indictment, the burglaries occurred at Gin Lane and Captains Neck Lane in Southampton, two houses on Rocky Point Road on Shelter Island, Lily Pond Lane in East Hampton and Soundview Avenue in Southold.