MIAMI – The undercover sting that turned up a multi-million dollar stolen Henri Matisse painting tracked a web of worldwide dealings that ended Tuesday at the Loews Hotel on Miami Beach.
Two people appeared in a Miami federal courtroom Wednesday in connection with the stolen art.
Maria Ornelas Lazo, 50, is Mexican national who worked as a vacation renal agent in Acapulco. It was believed she entered the U.S. two days ago with Matisse's Odalisque in Red Pants.
Pedro Marcuello, 46, is a Cuban native who prosecutors say set up the deal and revealed to undercover agents that he knew the painting was stolen.
Both Marcuello and Ornelas were arrested by the FBI and charged with Interstate Transport of Stolen Property, Sale and Possession of Stolen Property.
Fredric Snitzer, an art dealer in Wynwood, knows, with fairs like Art Basel, South Florida is an emerging global hot-spot for art. But black market back room deals aren't anything new.
"There are, unfortunately, stolen paintings that are sold. There are forgeries that are sold," Snitzer said.
When Odalisque in Red Pants was stolen and swapped with a fake at a state museum in Venezuela, it was reported that no one knew for months. The real one was traveling in the cloak of darkness for nearly a decade.
Snitzer said the onus is on any buyer to make sure a painting is legitimate.
"Those works are typically all cataloged. They're documented with their size, the dates. There's information on the back of the painting over the years it's been accumulated. and the seller should be able to provide you with this map," Snitzer said.
Marcuello and Lazo face a judge Friday for a pre-trial detention hearing. Considered flight risks, they are being held without bond until the hearing.