Federal prosecutors are asking that Seattle art dealer-turned art thief Kurt (Bulletproof) Lidtke be sent to prison for five years after he pleaded guilty last year to masterminding what the U.S. Attorney's office calls a potential half-million-dollars in art thefts. He is to be sentenced Friday for conspiracy and transporting stolen property and prosecutors think he should be imprisoned beyond a standard range of 48 months because the art he stole or planned to steal from six Seattle collectors was so valuable. Lidtke is asking he be given less than three years, however, objecting to a penalty for future crimes and noting he's addicted to cough syrup - once a four-bottle a day habit.
Lidtke has admitted his role in burglarizing a Seattle home in November 2009 of 13 paintings and a sculpture. The victim, ID'd only as D.B., was paid $152,000 by her insurer for the loss, which included two paintings by Morris Graves and one by Mark Tobey.
All of D.B.'s stolen works were recovered except for a painting by modernist Fay Chong, valued at $75,000. Lidtke has promised to repay that loss after he's released from prison.
Court records referring to the victim are sealed, as are the names of five other Seattle art collectors who were being targeted. Lidtke hoped to steal at least $400,000 in art works from one of the targets, whose total collection is valued at more than $1 million, says the FBI.
The D.B. heist was done by Lidtke's go-to guy, ex-prison cellmate Jerry Christy, who is also facing sentencing. Lidtke, with his experience as a Seattle gallery owner, picked the residences and Christy did the grunt work. At the time in 2009, Lidtke was just finishing up a three-year stretch for nine counts of first-degree theft, having stolen $435,000 in receipts from the sale of paintings consigned at his once-popular Pioneer Square art gallery in 2007. But, say prosecutors in a sentencing memoradum:
Unlike his prior offense, which involved simply selling art in his custody and pocketing proceeds to which he was not entitled, Lidtke put his knowledge of the art world to ill use by orchestrating burglaries of...priceless art, and often of collections that the owners likely had devoted their lives to assembling. Moreover, these were crimes committed by a person whom the victims had trusted. For example, D.B. had invited Lidtke into her home to appraise her art collection. Similarly, other victims and potential victims had purchased art from Lidtke and allowed him to visit their homes.
Moreover, prosecutors add, Lidtke's attitude was "entirely cavalier." Rather than accept responsibility for his actions, "Lidtke flippantly chose to blame the Department of Corrections for housing him with Christy."
In his sentencing memo, Lidtke's attorney minimizes his client's role and says an extended sentence based on planned crimes is unwarranted. He notes that the actual thefts were handled by Christy and his wife Georgia, who was also charged. A 31-month sentence would be appropriate, writes attorney Ralph Hurvitz, because of Lidtke's drug abuse.
"The downward spiral for Mr. Lidtke began with his increasing use of, and subsequent addiction to, cough syrup. His brand of choice was Robitussen. He began drinking cough syrup in 2003. By the time of his arrest, his consumption level was between
three and four bottles per day. Even though he had inpatient treatment at Sundown M Ranch in 2007, he neglected outpatient follow up. He realizes that this was a mistake. One impact of the addiction is the inability to connect his actions with their consequences. Mr. Lidtke hopes to participate in the Residential Drug Abuse Program within the Bureau of Prisons to address his addiction."