Robert Wittman, former FBI agent
and author of Priceless
During his 20-year career with the FBI, Robert Wittman recovered more than $225 million worth of stolen art and cultural property, resulting in the prosecution and conviction of numerous criminals. On March 25, he signed copies of his book Priceless and spoke about his law enforcement career in the Meagher Theatre.
Wittman joined the FBI as a special agent in 1988 and was assigned to the Philadelphia Field Division. His parents sold antiques, so to Wittman joining the art world seemed like a natural fit. As a result of specialized training in art, antiques, jewelry and gem identification, he served as the FBI’s investigative expert in this field. After the Theft of Major Artwork Law was passed in 1995 following the robbery of a museum in Boston, Wittman solved the first case that was tried under that law right here in Philadelphia – the robbery of the William Penn Museum in Bucks County. His team was able to recover more than 20 artifacts stolen from the Museum.
After the FBI formed its Art Crime Team in 2005, Wittman went undercover to recover one of Rembrandt’s self portraits on copper. Valued at $35 million, this piece was one of the most expensive items that he ever got back. He posed as an art appraiser from the Russian mob and negotiated a price of only $250,000 for the painting, which had been stolen from a museum in Sweden. He showed the audience footage of the deal that had been used in the trial in Denmark.
He told the audience that most art robberies are by people who feel in love with the object, not random people. The thieves feel that they have a right to the piece more than the public because they care more about it than most people do.
Wittman’s wife, Laura, is a 2008 alumna of Neumann University.
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