Making News

October 14th, 2000


William P. Youngworth III, the antiques dealer who claimed three years ago that he could broker the return of the immensely valuable paintings stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum here is back.

That is, Mr. Youngworth got out of prison today, after serving three years on an unrelated charge of possession of a stolen van. He could have been held 12 more years, his lawyer, Lisa Siegel Belanger, said, but the State Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that he should not be considered a habitual offender, leading to his release.

Mr. Youngworth is also back in the sense that he has returned to statements similar to those he made three years ago, when he contended that he could “facilitate” the return of the Gardner paintings. Stolen in 1990 in the biggest art theft in American history,they include Rembrandt’s only known seascape and a Vermeer and are estimated to be worth perhaps $300 million.

“There’s a big rush now to get this thing resolved, “Mr. Youngworth said today in a telephone interview. “My position is that’s fine, that’s your problem. My problem is that my life has to be restored to the station it was in; I have to get my son and myself resettled and get my business back in order.

In general, Mr. Youngworth said, “There seems to be a very positive dialogue opened up recently between the authorities and my attorneys and the museum officials, and I’m hoping we can come to a positive resolution very quickly, because this is a ride I want to get off.

The F.B.I. declined to comment on Mr. Youngworth’s assertions.

Anne Hawley, director of the museum, said, “I’m not aware of what is going on with the authorities, but I always say the museum will cooperate with the investigation and that we continue to hope to get our stolen artwork back. “(And meanwhile, she added, the museum has a wonderful Rembrandt exhibit going on, even without the stolen painting.)

Nothing ever came of Mr. Youngworth’s offers to provide a lead to the art in exchange for immunity and reward money, which he made as he was facing a 15 year sentence for receiving the stolen van.

Mr. Youngworth, who has a long criminal record, argued today that the problem in the past was that the authorities had been trying to “extort his cooperation through the sentences hanging over his head.

Another factor has changed since then as well: Myles J. Connor Jr., a notorious art thief who some law enforcement authorities believe holds the key to the paintings’ return, recently got out of jail himself. When he was released in June after serving 11 years for transporting stolen goods and selling cocaine. Mr. Connor told the Boston Herald that he planned to go straight. He also said he would be happy to help the museum recover the art, both for its own sake and for the $5 million reward it would bring. There has been no word since of any progress.

With Mr. Youngworth’s release, all the players in the confusing game or who has the paintings are back on the boord. What difference that makes remains to be seen. Mr. Connor and Mr. Youngworth used to be friends but have fallen out,and some law enforcement authorities question whether their claims about the missing art are real.

Mr. Youngworth said today that there might have been an accident with one of the paintings recently, but he declined to elaborate. For now, Mr.Youngworth said, he plans to “disappear to parts unknown where no one will be able to find me.”

June 6th, 2001

By Stephen Kurkjian GL0BESTAFF

The lawyer for a one-time key figure in the effort to recover art masterpieces stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 yesterday argued before the Massachusetts Appeals Court that his conviction for possession of stolen property should be thrown out because it involved a police attempt to force him to cooperate on the Gardner probe.

William P. Youngworth III, formerly of Randolph, served three years in prison followlng his conviction in 1997 for possession of a stolen van. However, Lisa Siegel Belanger, Youngworth’s attorney, yesterday asked the Appeals Court to order a new trial because prosecutors improperly withheld from Youngworth the identity of an informant who told Boston Police of the stolen vehicle in Youngworth’s garage.

Belanger said the informant, a previous associate Youngworth, was cooperating with police iIn an effort to have a prison sentence on an unrelated crime reduced.

Had Youngworth’s lawyers known the identity of the informant, they would have been able to raise the defense that Young¬∑ worth was set up by law enforcement and that the car was planted on his property by the informant. However, Norfolk. County Assistant District Attorney Brian A Wilson said that the identity of the informant was not central to the charge that a stolen van was found on Youngworth’s property.

In the months leading up to his 1997 trial, Youngworth contended that he could facilitate the return of the 13 pieces of art, including paintings by Vermeer and Rembrandt, stolen from the museum. However, the US attorney’s office rejected Youngworth’s request to provide him complete immunity from prosecution for the theft or illegal possession of the artwork without some concrete evidence that he could arrange the artwork’s recovery. Negotiations between both sides broke off, and the artwork remain’s missing.

April 5, 2007

By Wendy Maeda GL0BESTAFF

Joseph Frate was convicted in the 1980s of running an illegal lottery game. Now he is using the knowledge gained from that painful experience to sue two local retailers he says are breaking the law.

Frate, who lives in Medford, has filed civil lawsuits in Middlesex Superior Court against Jordan’s Furniture and Alpha Omega Jewelers Inc., alleging both companies ran Red Sox promotions that qualify as illegal lotteries.

Under an unusual state law that allows third parties to recover money wagered on illegal gambling activities, Frate is asking for damages equal to three times what consumers spent on the Jordan’s and Alpha Omega promotions. The retailers haven’t said how much was spent on their promotions, but both have indicated they were extremely popular.

“These are blatantly lotteries,” Frate said. “I learned the hard way. We’re going to find out if there’s a double standard.”

Jordan’s Furniture, a division of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and Alpha Omega, which has stores in Boston, Burlington, Cambridge, and Natick, declined comment on the lawsuits and have not formally responded to the suit. Previously, officials at both companies denied the promotions were illegal lotteries.

In late April, I reported that several lawyers specializing in retail law believed the promotions being run by Jordan’s Furniture, Alpha Omega, and others met the definition of an illegal lottery. But a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Martha Coakley said her office wasn’t taking action because the law on lotteries was murky and consumers weren’t being harmed.

Coakley’s spokeswoman, Amie Breton, said last week that the attorney general’s position has not changed. “We continue to monitor the situation and, if it seems consumers are being harmed in any way, we will reevaluate.”

A lottery is an illegal gambling activity in Massachusetts and most other states, except when it is being run by a state. Lotteries include three key elements — a prize, an element of chance, and consideration, usually the payment of money. Since retailers find lottery-style promotions are good for sales, many use them, but avoid legal concerns by dropping one of the three elements. For example, the element of chance can be eliminated by creating a game where skill predominates, like shooting baskets or writing an essay.

Consideration can be eliminated by allowing people to play without paying, which is why many companies add the tagline, “no purchase necessary,” at the end of their promotions.

Jordan’s Furniture promised customers who purchased certain types of furniture between March and April a full rebate if the Red Sox were to win the World Series this year. The lawyers contacted by the Globe saw the furniture purchase as the consideration, the full refund as the prize, and the Red Sox World Series win as the element of chance. The Alpha Omega promotion was slightly different. It promised discounts or full refunds to consumers who bought an engagement ring on a day when one of three things happened at a Red Sox game. The customer would receive $500 back if a Red Sox player hit a home run, $1,000 if a player hit a grand slam, and a full refund if the Red Sox pitcher threw a no-hitter.

Frate’s attorney, Lisa Siegel Belanger, argues in her complaints that her client is entitled to damages equal to three times what consumers spent on the promotions because of a state law whose “main objective was to penalize individuals and businesses who promote a lottery without the authorization of the Commonwealth.”

Frate was convicted in 1987 of operating an illegal lottery and possessing gambling devices, which he installed at several locations. The device was described in court documents as resembling a “slot machine. A player would insert a coin, lights would flash, and numbers would be electronically generated. Sometimes coins would be disgorged as prizes.” Players could use the numbers to play the real state lottery.

Frate was sentenced to two years of probation and a $300 fine. He said the decision was financially crippling. “It nixed my future. A conviction shows up on your record no matter what you do.”

The case was appealed in 1989 to the state Supreme Judicial Court, which upheld Frate’s conviction on operating an illegal lottery, but overturned his conviction on possession of a gambling device. The court said the vending machine didn’t qualify as a gambling device because it didn’t include a “reel or a drum.”

Frate said he decided to file his lawsuit after seeing Jordan’s Furniture and Alpha Omega advertisements for the promotions and reading in the Globe that law-enforcement officials weren’t going to do anything. “If I couldn’t do it, why should they look the other way with these people?”