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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
09/24/2008

French national sentenced in international stolen art conspiracy involving paintings by Monet, Sisley, and Brueghel

MIAMI - A French citizen was sentenced here today to 62 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release, $200 special assessment, and an order of restitution for conspiring to transport four stolen paintings and visa fraud after joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), French National Police and the Spanish National Police

The conspiracy charge of Bernard Jean Ternus stemmed from the August 5, 2007 armed robbery at the Musee des Beaux-Arts, also known as the Museum of Fine Arts, located in Nice, France. The armed robbers stole the following four original paintings: "Cliffs Near Dieppe," by Claude Monet; "The Lane of Poplars at Moret," by Alfred Sisley; "Allegory of Water" and "Allegory of Earth," both by Jan Breughel the Elder.

Ternus previously admitted in open court during a plea hearing that from August 2007 through June 2008, he and his co-conspirators worked to sell the stolen paintings to undercover agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and an undercover officer of the French National Police.

According to documents filed in court, Ternus had several meetings in the fall of 2007 with undercover FBI agents during which he negotiated the sale of the stolen paintings. During these meetings, Ternus told undercover FBI agents that his associates stole the paintings and that he needed to find a buyer for the paintings which were then located in southern France. On January 5, 2008, Ternus arranged with undercover FBI agents to meet in Barcelona, Spain with the people in France who were holding the stolen paintings.

On January 19, 2008, Ternus met in Barcelona, Spain with undercover FBI agents and an unindicted co-conspirator who had traveled from France to Barcelona for this meeting. There, Ternus and his unindicted co-conspirator negotiated a two-part transaction with the undercover FBI agents. They would sell all four stolen paintings to the undercover agents for a total of €3 million (Euros). Two of the paintings would be transferred in exchange for €1.5 million (Euros), and the remaining two paintings would be transferred on a separate date for €1.5 million (Euros). The defendant and his unindicted co-conspirator structured the two-part transaction to create leverage with law enforcement in the event anyone was arrested upon the sale of the first two paintings. If this occurred, they intended to use the remaining two paintings to bargain for the release of anyone who was arrested.

After the January 19 meeting in Barcelona, Ternus returned to South Florida and had several more meetings with undercover FBI agents to discuss the terms, structure, and logistics of the transactions. Then, on April 16, 2008, two of Ternus' unindicted co-conspirators arrived from France via Madrid, Spain. Two days later, on April 18, during a two-hour meeting with undercover FBI agents aboard a boat docked in Broward County, Ternus and the two unindicted co-conspirators reviewed the details of their sale of the stolen paintings to the undercover agents. One of Ternus' unindicted co-conspirators said he hid the Monet and the Sisley paintings separately from the two Brueghel paintings, and suggested that they could threaten to tear up the Monet and the Sisley if police surrounded them after the first transfer. Following a second meeting on April 20, 2008, involving Ternus, the two unindicted co-conspirators, and undercover FBI agents, the two unindicted co-conspirators returned to France. Shortly thereafter, one of Ternus' unindicted co-conspirators arranged to have the transfer of the stolen paintings and the transfer of the purchase money occur in southern France.

On May 16, 2008, one of Ternus' unindicted co-conspirators met in Carry le Rouet, France with an undercover officer from the French National Police who was believed to be a representative of the undercover FBI agents. He showed the stolen Sisley painting and one of the stolen Brueghel paintings, "Allegory of Water," to the undercover officer. The undercover French National Police officer agreed to purchase the stolen paintings on behalf of the undercover FBI agents.

On June 4, 2008, when the final transaction was to occur, the French National Police arrested Ternus' co-conspirators in southern France; FBI and ICE agents arrested Ternus in Cooper City, FL and the French National Police located and recovered all four stolen paintings from inside a van in Marseilles, France.
In addition to the conspiracy charge relating to the stolen artworks, Ternus also previously pled guilty to a visa fraud charge before U.S. District Court Judge Cecilia A. Altonaga in Miami, FL. During the plea, Ternus admitted that he fraudulently concealed his French