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Martin Weigelt was at the centre of a controversy over a photo taken by Vancouver police following his arrest on Nov. 5, 2007. ((CBC))

The RCMP paid $20,000 to a career criminal for key information that led to the safe recovery of art treasures stolen from a B.C. museum last year, CBC News has learned.

Martin Weigelt was given the reward because the information he provided helped police recover all 12 pieces of the Haida artist Bill Reid's work, police sources told CBC News Friday.

The pieces, including bracelets, brooches and cufflinks, were stolen in May from glass-enclosed, stone showcases from the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. Three golden-coloured Mexican art objects also vanished.

For an update on this story, see below.

RCMP spokeswoman Const. Annie Linteau confirmed Friday that an unspecified amount of cash was paid to an individual.

"I cannot go into more details," she said.

But Linteau said the person rewarded was not a suspect in the heist, meaning the money was not an incentive to the perpetrator or perpetrators of the crime to ensure the safe return of the Haida artist's works.

Weigelt, 42, has a long criminal history dating back to 1988, according to court documents. He has at least 55 convictions, which include breaking and entering, theft, weapons possession and drug trafficking.

He made news headlines in November 2006 when some Vancouver police officers snapped a trophy photo of him in the police department's lockup after his arrest. The photograph showed four officers posed smiling with Weigelt, who was wearing a white prison jumpsuit and looked distressed and had an injury to his face.

No charges laid

No one was ever charged in the art heist, and Linteau said Friday that police are still investigating the case.

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This gold brooch showing an eagle in profile was one of the last two Bill Reid art pieces recovered last summer. ((UBC Museum of Anthropology))

In June, police searched two residences in Burnaby and New Westminster and recovered 10 of the 12 Reid pieces, as well as the three Mexican items.

Investigators arrested three people, questioned them and released them without disclosing their identities.

Police conducted two more searches in July and August and found the last two pieces. The RCMP never said how they made the finds, except that all manner of techniques were used, including round-the-clock surveillance.

An update on this story (added April 24, 2009):

Four days after the publication of this story, Martin Weigelt vehemently denied any connection to the 2008 heist at the Museum of Anthropology — and the RCMP backed him up.

Weigelt contacted CBC News from behind bars, where he was awaiting trial in a major jewelry store robbery.

He insisted he had nothing to do with the theft at the museum — of works by Haida artist Bill Reid — and said he did not receive a reward from the RCMP for information that led to the safe recovery of the artworks.

Weigelt said he believed he was being framed by someone in law enforcement. He earlier made news headlines in November 2006 when some Vancouver police officers snapped a trophy photo of him in the police department's lockup after his arrest. Those officers were later reprimanded.

"Without a doubt, someone obviously has a complete hate on for me, because it makes no sense," Weigelt said over a monitored jail phone.

Weigelt claimed rumours of his involvement in the heist had been circulating behind bars for months, putting his life in jeopardy — especially from First Nations inmates, angry over the theft of native art.

In January, police sources told CBC News that the RCMP had paid Weigelt the $20,000 reward; the RCMP refused to officially confirm or deny Weigelt was connected to the investigation at that time. However, in early February, the RCMP publicly denied Weigelt had any involvement with the investigation.

"Investigators have no information so far that Martin Weigelt is involved in any way in our investigation, either as an informant, a suspect, or a witness, and as such, we have never paid Weigelt any money," said Const. Annie Linteau, an RCMP spokeswoman.

With files from Eric Rankin