CHICAGO -- Federal authorities are seeking a man who fled to Greece after allegedly stealing three valuable paintings from a wealthy family and arranging to have them sold by a New York auction house.
The paintings were recovered after they were auctioned but before they were shipped to the buyers.
A federal grand jury last week indicted John Zentefis, a former foreman at a Chicago storage warehouse, in the thefts from heiress Mary Bates Harrington.
The paintings -- "Summer, Montclair" by George Inness, "End of Day" by Jean Cazin, and "River Landscape" by Alexander H. Wyant -- were once owned by Chicago coal magnate George Bates Harrington and his wife Sophia.
Harrington died in 1960 and his wife died in 1963. The paintings were inherited by Mary Harrington, who placed them in storage at a Federal Moving and Storage Co. warehouse in Chicago.
Zentefis worked at the warehouse, according to the indictment. In 1979, Federal Moving and Storage went bankrupt and the boxes were supposed to be transferred to the warehouse of a different company.
In 1984, a friend of the Harrington family noticed that "Summer, Montclair," a 100-year-old landscape painting, had been listed in a circular sent out by Sotheby's, the well-known auction house. The FBI was notified, and agent Robert Spiel was dispatched to New York, according to the indictment.
Spiel found that "Summer, Montclair" had been auctioned to an unidentified London man for $90,750. The other two paintings had been sold to other buyers for a total of $4,375.
Zentefis received $76,000 and fled to Greece, the indictment alleged, while Sotheby's kept the rest of the money as a commission.
Spiel confiscated the still-unshipped artworks and brought them back to Chicago, where the paintings are now being held in storage by the Art Institute of Chicago.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Alex Vesselinovitch began a grand jury investigation and the family hired attorney Gordon Nash to sort out the affair.
Eventually, Sotheby's paid back the disgruntled purchasers of the works, which a Cook County judge said belong to Harrington.
"It's amazing we found them," she said.