East End art thief sentenced to six years; case now closed

TIM KELLY FILE PHOTO | Former Southold Police Chief Ty Cochran stands in front of one of the stolen pieces of art.

When police arrested a Medford carpenter in the spring for taking up to $600,000 in artwork from upscale houses across the East End last winter, few thought he was acting on his own.

“Nobody believes that this defendant was working by himself,” Suffolk District Attorney Tom Spota said during a press conference announcing the arrest of 24-year-old Angel Palencia, who was indicted on multiple counts of felony burglary and one grand larceny charge. “He certainly wasn’t running around to houses in East Hampton and looking in windows.”

At that time, Mr. Spota said investigators were “looking at a number of individuals they believe may have participated.”

art thief
Angel Palencia

Mr. Palencia entered a plea of guilty on all counts on Nov. 15 and on Dec. 14 was sentenced by county court Judge Stephen Braslow to six years in prison and five years’ probation. Investigators said that while he admitted to the thefts, he still maintains it was a one-man operation and has implicated no one else.

As a result, it appears his will be the only arrest and prosecution in a case now considered closed.

“It’s possible he did have help with it, but there’s nothing we could confirm,” said Southold detective Ned Grathwohl, who worked the case. “It could have been just him, but that seems unlikely.”

Mr. Palencia, who had worked at several of the homes from which art was stolen, knew which to target, police said. There was no evidence of forced entry at any of the burglarized homes and property owners said their windows had been locked and their alarms set. He was accused of taking 30 works of art and other valuables from homes in Southold, Shelter Island, Southampton and East Hampton during this past January and February.

He was employed by a painting contractor on the North Fork and was a carpenter on Shelter Island.

Police linked him to the thefts when a North Fork art dealer, whose name was never revealed, told police he had been contacted by Mr. Palencia, who offered to sell him several pieces. The dealer said he grew suspicious after learning that some of the art had been reported stolen in East Hampton.

Det. Grathwohl said there is some evidence to suggest that Mr. Palencia was not following someone else’s art shopping list,
“There was stuff in his home that had absolutely no value,” the detective said. “He was definitely not an art connoisseur.”

For now, he added, “we have no leads to anyone or anything else to go on. If we get a tip, we’ll follow it. But at the moment, there’s nothing to follow.”

While some questions remain unanswered, most of the art was returned to its owners, the detective said.

“They were very happy with the outcome,” he said.

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