A pair charged with trying to sell a stolen Henri Matisse painting have pleaded guilty in Miami.
Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman of Miami and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo of Mexico City have entered guilty pleas on charges of conspiracy to transport and sell stolen property, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami announced on Wednesday.
Marcuello Guzman faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years, while Ornelas Lazo faces up to five years for their attempt to sell the Matisse painting Odalisque à la culotte rouge (Odalisque in red pants).
Dating from 1925, the painting depicts a bare-breasted woman in bright red pants, seated against a striped wall. The canvas was stolen from Venezuela's Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art a decade ago and is now valued at $3 million US.
The museum had originally purchased the work from a New York gallery for $400,000 US in the early 1980s.
Miami sting operation
Undercover FBI agents posing as art buyers arrested the two during a sting operation conducted at a Miami Beach hotel in July. According to U.S. officials, Marcuello Guzman arranged the sale of the canvas for $740,000 US and arranged for Ornelas Lazo to transport the painting to Miami from Mexico.
The Venezuelan museum (previously known as the Sofia Imber Contemporary Art Museum) revealed in December 2002 that the painting had been stolen. Museum officials were first alerted to the theft by a collector who saw a sales notice for the painting in New York.
Subsequent investigation revealed that a forgery had been left in its place.
The works of French modernist master Matisse command high prices at auction and from collectors. He is among the artists whose works are most often targeted by thieves.