Accused Mobster in Largest US Art Heist Near Death

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(Reuters) - An accused mobster on what may be his death bed once again denied knowing anything about the whereabouts of paintings stolen from a Boston museum in the largest art heist in U.S. history, his lawyer said on Saturday.

Robert Gentile, 80, faces charges of selling a loaded firearm to a convicted killer. His attorney contends the case was brought to pressure him into leading federal agents to paintings stolen from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.

Attorney Ryan McGuigan said he visited Gentile in South Carolina this week after being advised by federal officials to tell Gentile's wife, also 80 and in ill health, and son, in his early 50s, to prepare for the possibility of the man's death.

"I told him that if there ever was a time to give up some information that you haven't yet, that I don't know, this would be it," McGuigan said in a phone interview. He said he believed that if Gentile were to offer up new information about the paintings, federal officials would allow him to see his family in Connecticut.

"He said, 'Yeah, but there's no painting,'" McGuigan said. "His story has never changed in the six years that I have represented him."

A spokesman for federal prosecutors in Connecticut declined to comment. McGuigan said he could not provide more detail on where Gentile is being held.

Gentile had been due to stand trial last month on the gun charge, but his failing health delayed proceedings. He has repeatedly denied knowing the whereabouts of any of the art taken in one of the longest-unsolved high-profile crimes in Boston.

The theft was carried out by two men dressed in police uniforms who apparently overpowered a night security guard who had buzzed them in a back entrance. None of the 13 artworks, which include Rembrandt's "Storm on the Sea of Galilee" and Vermeer's "The Concert," has been recovered.

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Due to a quirk in Gardner's will, the empty frames that held the paintings remain on the walls of the museum she built to house the collection she amassed with her husband.

The art must be displayed the way it was during her lifetime, preventing curators from hanging new works and leaving a constant reminder of the theft.

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At a court hearing last year, federal prosecutors said Gentile was secretly recorded telling an undercover FBI agent he had access to at least two of the paintings and could sell them for $500,000 each.

A 2012 FBI search of Gentile's home turned up a handwritten list of the stolen art, its estimated value and police uniforms, according to court documents.

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