America's Only 'Art Cop' Just Cracked a Big Case
$10M in stolen paintings recovered
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 17, 2014 10:22 PM CST
Updated Dec 18, 2014 4:00 AM CST
"Les Paysans" by Marc Chagall is among the recovered works.   (LAPD)

(Newser) – One of the biggest art heists in Los Angeles history has been cracked by the country's only full-time art cop. Nine paintings stolen from a wealthy real-estate investor's home in 2008, including works by Marc Chagall and Diego Rivera, were recovered after Detective Donald Hrycyk got a tip this fall about a man in Europe called "Darko" who was trying to sell the stolen masterpieces, reports the Los Angeles Times. After an undercover operation involving the FBI and the LAPD, artworks worth $10 million were recovered and Raul Espinoza, 45, was arrested. Investigators say he was seeking $700,000 in cash for the paintings.

Hrycyk, who has been with the LAPD for 40 years and been a full-time art detective for 20 years, is still trying to track down three paintings still missing from the heist. Hrycyk, head of the LAPD's Art Theft Detail, had recovered more than $100 million in stolen property even before cracking his latest case, according to a Los Angeles Register profile earlier this year. The 63-year-old, a former homicide detective who joined the art squad after getting sick of seeing dead bodies, says the best part of the job is making sure historic artworks are safe. "My work has lasting value," he says. "To ultimately find something like that, and to bring it back to people that appreciate it and deserve to have it—as opposed to some thug—is very satisfying."
 

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