About a year ago, three expensive paintings were found to be missing from the Schulhof estate, a Long Island mansion which houses over 300 twentieth century artworks valued at “many millions” of dollars. When one of the pieces — Jean Dubuffet’s Armchair II — was sold at auction, investigators traced the payment to a Brooklyn mailbox belonging to Joselito Vega, who had been hired to paint the home prior to the paintings’ disappearance. “He seemed to be a very discerning collector,” quipped Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes at a Monday press conference announcing Vega’s arrest. Police nabbed him in sting operation last week: Vega was invited back for another job at the Schulhof house, where he was videotaped “scrutinizing” a crate full of paintings before placing three selections (one of which was a Picasso) in a black garbage bag.
But Vega’s defense attorney, S. Ken Jones, says that prosecutors laid an unfair “trap” for his client. Further, he contends that Vega “‘couldn’t know much about art’ because he is accused of selling a painting ‘he was alleged to have stolen for $10,000 when he should have sold it for $50,000.’” The whereabouts of the other two stolen paintings — Frank Stella’s Tuftonboro (appraised at $25,000) and Norman Lewis’s Flower (appraised at $10,000) — are still unknown. Meanwhile, a judge determined that Vega was even more valuable than the art he took: His bail was set at $1 million.