My co-worker might be involved in art smuggling - what should I do?

Last night, I was in the breakroom at work, on lunch break with about fifteen other people and overheard a conversation several of them were taking part in. One of my coworkers (let’s call him Joey Jo Jo Junior Shabadoo) mentioned that earlier that day, he had acquired a piece of artwork, worth about $26,000, made by an artist who lives in this region and is well-known for making sculptures in a particular medium. (If you suspect you know who I’m talking about, please don’t say so in the thread.) Having piqued the interest of several listeners, he went on to say that he currently had about $200,000 worth of said artist’s work in his garage. Being as our job doesn’t pay nearly enough for someone to be able to afford that much fine art, he was asked how he got it or why he didn’t sell some of it to pay his bills.

This is the explanation he gave; one of the artist’s apprentices is a pill-popper, and one of Joey’s friends is the apprentice’s dealer. Said apprentice sneaks “broken” sculptures out of the artist’s warehouse and trades them to the dealer for his drugs, and the dealer gives them to Joey for safekeeping, with the understanding that after the artist eventually dies, they’ll sell them under the table and split the profits.

Joey is a good guy. I have nothing against him, and I know he has a wife and kids and works hard to provide for them. I’ve never been to his house and aren’t likely to, so for all I know he was just spinning tall tales to make himself sound like a big shot. However, if he’s telling the truth, then it seems to me that at the very best he’s an accomplice to some pretty big money fraud/larceny, which is victimizing a well-respected public figure, and that a stop ought to be put to it.

So here’s my questions;

  1. Should I report what I’ve heard to someone? I’ve never been in a situation before where I felt I needed to ‘drop a dime’ on someone. I know that, at best, my accounting is hearsay - I haven’t seen the allegedly stolen sculptures and have no firsthand knowledge of the wheelings and dealings going on. How likely would it be that my passing on this tip would lead to an investigation?

  2. Who would be the appropriate people to report such a thing to? The local police in the town where I work? The police in the town where the warehouse is located? The state police? The FBI? Someone else?

  3. How easy would it be for me to remain anonymous if I did talk to the police? If it turned out it was true and Joey got in legal trouble, I’d fear becoming outcast at work if it were known I ratted him out (to say nothing of getting on the bad side of the dealer’s associates). Would I be able to give my information on the phone, or in writing, without physically presenting myself to the police?

Insert standard “you are not my lawyer” disclaimer here, but I’d appreciate any learned information anyone could provide.

wow…this is an interesting situation, and I’m glad that I’ve never been part of something like this.
I have no advice to give you, but I do have a few questions and comments.

First: you are asking about art theft, which may or may not be happening. But the police would probably be more interested in the drug dealing which is behind it.

The art situation sounds sketchy. If the art is worth $26,000 (which seems like a suspiciously specific number for a guy to throw out in casual conversation), then the $200 thousand of artwork is only 7 or 8 pieces.
It is possible that the pieces of sculpture really are . as you say “broken”, and that the artist doesnt care that they are being stolen, because they are not for sale anyway? Otherwise, it seems pretty suspicious that he apparently hasn’t noticed that he is missing 200 grand worth of his property. It is also strange that your friend feels comfortable casually announcing in public and at work that he has a garage full of stolen property.

And it’s also strange that the drug dealer accepts payment on endless credit -payable in lump sums of $26000 worth of statues, but which he isn’t trying to sell for cash now, but prefers to wait for years, and then will split the proceeds with the garage owner. How much do the drugs cost, and how does the seller decide how many pills to give away?. Does the apprentice steal one statue every couple months, or one smaller item every week?
Which leads , back to my first comment: it looks like you’re talking more about a case of drug money than art money. And a drug dealer who plays with hundreds of thousands of dollars probably had accomplices who you don’t want to mess with. (at least, that’s what I’ve learned from Television). Be careful.

Legal advice is best suited to IMHO.

General Questions Moderator

The FBI has a website where you can enter tips anonymously. You could go to an Internet cafe or FedEx office in another town to make it untraceable.

I’m not sure if they’d have jurisdiction though.

Apart from the fact that broken, non attributable art, would likely prove to be worthless if they tried to sell it, I too find it a little unbelievable that a drug dealer would accept broken bits of art in place of money.

Unless he’s an expert himself, how would he actually know that it was genuine and not bits and bobs of junk ?

And he’s supposedly taking the word of someone who is not only deceiving his employer, but is stealing to pay for his drug habit .

Personally I would say that Joey is B/s ing .

It could even be that the artist and the apprentice are both pill poppers, and they figured out a rewarding way to get rid of their rejects while keeping them off the market.

For the record, when I say “broken”, I mean it in the sense that “the apprentice is sneaking these pieces out intact and explaining their absence by writing them off as broken”. At least, that’s how it was described in the conversation.

Don’t you think the artist would get rid of any apprentice who kept breaking his sculptures?

Without putting too fine a point on it, I’ve done some reading this morning and this artist happens to have a relatively large number of apprentices who are responsible for working on pieces produced in his name. Naming the person involved would probably go a ways towards explaining that detail, but I’d rather not do so. Suffice to say, from what I can gather, my coworker’s tale is plausible (thus my not really knowing what to do about it).


This is truly a fascinating story and reads like a crime novel. I feel badly for your coworker because it sounds like he doesn’t really get the severity if the situation–else he would not have been talking about it in the break room.

If I’m reading this correctly - and the artist is who I think it is - then the sculptures themselves are of a fairly complex and fragile nature. So breakage would be a regular and ongoing concern.

Also, the assistants to such an artist are likely to come from a different field/area than say, a muralist or a watercolorist. One that has more ‘interesting’ types of people attracted to it.

If it’s who I’m thinking, they are not guaranteed a payday any time soon. I mean, yeah, you assume a drug-user may have a shortened lifespan, but then again, Keith Richards is still alive and kicking (and close in age).

He will probably suspect

1: The circle of people he trusts that he told this to


2: Those in that circle who are very law abiding.

You figure out how big the intersection of those two sets are. I suspect he (and by extension his dealer) will have a pretty good idea who ratted him out.

If the police get interested he may well go to jail for being an accomplice to felony theft.

I do find it interesting the dealer is willing to take these in exchange for product and has a very long term payback plan and instead of using a private storage unit is willing to split the profits by using a loudmouthed persons garage.

It’s a fascinating setup if true. If I were a newspaper reporter I’d be all over it. It’s a prize winning story if you could get in on the front end of it.

As a side note in rereading the OP he is apparently broadcasting this far and wide.

So (if true) the chances of him IDing you as the tattler are not as great as I thought.

Why wouldn’t you contact the artist. It’s his decision to decide what to do about a worker taking home defective art. Multiple workers means the artist keeps an eye out on disposal to catch the right one, if the artist wants to do something.

^^^If you go that route, maintain anonymity. I still think that chances are good that the artist is in on it and has found a way to offload the output he’s not satisfied with in exchange for a steady supply for his habit.

Then again, if he was so inclined, the drug-dealer could actually exert some influence on said drug-user’s lifespan… :eek:

So lets say it all goes well and they approach an art dealer.

Heres a genuine Billy Blogs mobile, or whatever, do you want to buy it ?

Yes indeed, can you give me the provenance for the work ?


Well then its worthless, because it could be by anyone , or indeed could be anything, and even if I bought it, I wouldn’t be able to sell it for the same reason. You are in fact offering to sell anonymous junk to me Bye Bye.

Still sounds like B/s to me.

Would you be interested in betting your life against a phone call? Personally, I don’t believe that you could remain anonymous. If the police keep notes, they can be easily subpoenaed. Or, some cop may be in bed with the same crackhead.

IMHO, keep a sock in it.

It’s pretty obvious who the artist must be based on the information already provided in this thread. Similarly your identity is not anonymous given your long posting history here and AOL identity, email address, and location all being provided to anyone in the public through the SDMB.

An angry drug dealer or investigating detective can likely identify both the artist and you easily.

If the broken sculpture caper is true, it was very stupid of Mr. Jo Jo Junior Shabadoo to discuss it at work.(especially with a name like that! How many could there be in the world…)

If your goal was really to remain anonymous and report it, it wasn’t a good idea at all to post this thread

Despite your request not to do so, nobody is under any obligation not to reveal the artist, or contact them directly without even consulting you, or file their own report citing your post as their reason for suspicion, so the cat may already be out of the bag now regardless of what you decide to do. This thread will be on the interwebs forever.

So, IMHO you have the same obvious choices that you did before posting, but now with the additional downsides of all of the above to consider.

In case you didn’t know, this board often comes up high on a list of Google results. I’m not sure asking for advice here was a good idea.

That’s the worst name I ever heard.