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May 9, 2013

Conn. man thought linked to Gardner art heist gets 2½ years

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A reputed Connecticut mobster was sentenced Thursday to 2 1/2 years in prison in a weapons and prescription drugs case that revealed federal authorities' belief that he knew something about the largest property heist in U.S. history.

Robert Gentile, 76, of Manchester, pleaded guilty in November to illegally selling prescription drugs and possessing guns, silencers and ammunition. With credit for time already served and good behavior, Gentile is expected to be released from prison in 10 to 12 months. He then faces three months of home confinement, followed by three years of supervised released.

Prosecutors were seeking a prison term of 4 to 4½ years. Gentile sought a sentence of prison time already served and wanted to be released on probation or home confinement. He has been detained since his arrest in February of last year.

Gentile spoke at the hearing, telling the judge he's been a hardworking man all of his life. He started talking about his wife, saying he loved her, before breaking down into tears.

The case made national news last year when prosecutors revealed that the FBI believed Gentile had information on the still-unsolved theft of art worth an estimated half-billion dollars from Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990.

Two men posing as police officers stole 13 pieces of artwork including paintings by Rembrandt, Manet, Degas and Vermeer. FBI officials said earlier this year that they believe they know who stole the paintings but still don't know where the artwork is.

Gentile has denied knowing anything about the art heist and no one has been charged in the theft. But prosecutors revealed at the sentencing hearing that Gentile had taken a polygraph about the theft and claimed he didn't know where the stolen paintings were, which an expert concluded likely was a lie.

Federal agents said they found an arsenal of weapons at Gentile's home including several handguns, a shotgun, five silencers, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and homemade dynamite. Authorities also searched the property with ground-penetrating radar in what Gentile's lawyer called a veiled and unsuccessful attempt to find the stolen artwork.

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