A man considered a key suspect in the unsolved infamous half a billion dollar heist of artwork from a Boston museum has been released from prison after two decades.

David Turner, 52, was freed on Wednesday after serving 21 years for his role in foiled $50 million plan to rob a Loomis-Fargo armoured at gunpoint truck back in 1999.

Along with several accomplices and armed with a hand grenade and six guns, Turner had been driving the crew to carry out the robbery in Easton when they were intercepted by the FBI, following a months-long sting operation.

According to court records, FBI agents told Turner after his arrest that he was a main suspect in the 1990 heist of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, offering leniency in his sentencing if he cooperated to help return the 13 stolen masterpieces – which included the works of Rembrandt and Vermeer – valued at $500 million.

David Turner, 52, was freed on Wednesday after serving 21 years for his role in foiled $50 million plan to rob a Loomis-Fargo armoured at gunpoint truck back in 1999

David Turner, 52, was freed on Wednesday after serving 21 years for his role in foiled $50 million plan to rob a Loomis-Fargo armoured at gunpoint truck back in 1999

According to court records, FBI agents told Turner after his arrest that he was a main suspect in the 1990 heist of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (above), offering leniency in his sentencing if he cooperated to help return the 13 stolen masterpieces

According to court records, FBI agents told Turner after his arrest that he was a main suspect in the 1990 heist of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum (above), offering leniency in his sentencing if he cooperated to help return the 13 stolen masterpieces

FBI agents claimed to have several secret recordings of Turner discussing the missing art.

However, Turner insisted he knew nothing of the robbery, which is the largest-value recorded theft of private property in history, and instead was sentenced to 38 years in prison on robbery and firearms charges.

The sentence initially carried a mandatory 30 year sentence, as Turner and crew were carrying a hand grenade.

However, the government secretly had his sentence cut down be seven years, making him eligible for parole in 2025, the Boston globe reported. But federal authorities declined to specify whether the reduction came as a result of Turner finally agreeing to help recover the artwork.

Still, nearly thirty years on, none of the 13 masterworks have ever been recovered. And on Wednesday, 52-year-old Turner strode out from Boston federal court as a free man, following a judge’s ruling the 21 years he’s served behind bars for the armed robbery.

‘I deeply regret the actions I took and the choices I made,’ Turner told US District Judge Richard G. Stearns. ‘I am no longer that person. I cannot change the past, but I have tried my best to change my future.’

Stearns, who presided over Turner’s case in 1999, vacated his sentence last month in light of recent Supreme Court rulings which have eased federal sentencing guidelines.

On Wednesday, Stearns sentenced Turner to the time he had already served and ordered his release.

The decision came largely as a result of several rehabilitation behind bars. He’s participated in 58 education programs – including Spanish lessons and sign language – volunteered as a hospital companion for critically ill inmates, and was an instructor for the penitentiary’s Victim Impact Program.

Still the question remains: just how much does David Turner know of the infamous Gardner Heist?

The FBI first began targeting Turner and one of his co-defendants, Carmello Merlino, a repair shop owner with Mafia ties, in the early 1990s, believing the pair would be able to lead the to the stolen art. 

‘I deeply regret the actions I took and the choices I made,’ Turner told US District Judge Richard G. Stearns. ‘I am no longer that person. I cannot change the past, but I have tried my best to change my future’

‘I deeply regret the actions I took and the choices I made,’ Turner told US District Judge Richard G. Stearns. ‘I am no longer that person. I cannot change the past, but I have tried my best to change my future’

The 13 stolen masterpieces – which included the works of Rembrandt and Vermeer – are valued at $500 million and  have never been recovered (pictured: an empty fram hangs on the wall

The 13 stolen masterpieces – which included the works of Rembrandt and Vermeer – are valued at $500 million and  have never been recovered (pictured: an empty fram hangs on the wall 

On March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as Boston police officers talked their way into the museum at 1:20am, telling the security guard at the watch desk that they were responding to a report of a disturbance

On March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as Boston police officers talked their way into the museum at 1:20am, telling the security guard at the watch desk that they were responding to a report of a disturbance 

On March 18, 1990, two thieves disguised as Boston police officers talked their way into the museum at 1:20am, telling the security guard at the watch desk that they were responding to a report of a disturbance.

Against museum policy, the guard, later identified to be Rick Abath, let the two men into a locked foyer separating a side-door from the museum.

The two men approached Abath at his desk and asked him if anyone else was inside the museum with him, and, if so, to summon them over immediately.

Abath confirmed that another security guard, Randy Hestand, was also on duty and called him to the security desk.

Swiftly, both of the men were handcuffed and blindfolded by duct tape, before being escorted down to separate areas in the museum’s basement.

From there, the two men moved swiftly through the museum and were captured by motion detectors in the Dutch Room at 1:48am. They smashed a bleeping device employed to warn a patron they were too close to an art work and began ripping paintings from the wall.

First, they took the Storm on the Sea of Galilee, Rembrandt’s only seascape, and A Lady and Gentleman in Black, throwing them down on the marble floor and shattering their glass frames.

They then cut the canvases out of their stretchers with a blade. The two men also removed a large Rembrandt self-portrait however left it leaning against a cabinet.

First, they took the Storm on the Sea of Galilee (above), Rembrandt’s only seascape, and A Lady and Gentleman in Black, throwing them down on the marble floor and shattering their glass frames

First, they took the Storm on the Sea of Galilee (above), Rembrandt’s only seascape, and A Lady and Gentleman in Black, throwing them down on the marble floor and shattering their glass frames

They also stole Johannes Vermeer's The Concert, which is valued at $250 million, and remains to be the most valuable stolen object in the world

They also stole Johannes Vermeer’s The Concert, which is valued at $250 million, and remains to be the most valuable stolen object in the world

They then cut the canvases out of their stretchers with a blade. The two men also removed a large Rembrandt self-portrait however left it leaning against a cabinet (pictured: Four school girls take notes, near an empty frame which once held the stolen Rembrandt, during a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, March 1999)

They then cut the canvases out of their stretchers with a blade. The two men also removed a large Rembrandt self-portrait however left it leaning against a cabinet (pictured: Four school girls take notes, near an empty frame which once held the stolen Rembrandt, during a visit to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, March 1999)

Police believe the men decided the oil painting may have been too large to transport, likely because it was painted on wood rather than canvas.

They instead stole a small postage stamp-sized Rembrandt etching, before removing Landscape with Obelisk by Govert Flinck and The Concert, by Johannes Vermeer – which is valued at $250 million, and remains to be the most valuable stolen object in the world.

Over the next hour, a total of 13 masterpieces were removed from the museum’s walls and stolen, never to be seen again.

Before leaving the two men returned to check on the security guards asking if they were comfortable. They then broke into the security director’s office and stole the surveillance tapes that documented their entrance to the museum.

In total the robbery lasted 81 minutes. By 2:45am the man had exited the museum through the same side-door through which they’d entered, and were seen fleeing the scene in a hatchback.

The estimated value of the missing artwork was first believed to be in the region of $200 million. However, in the later 2000s various art dealers suggested the haul was actually likely more worth somewhere in the region of $500-$600 million.

The eclectic mix of artwork – ranging from a relatively worthless bronze Chinese gu to Chez Tortoni by French painter Édouard Manet – has continued to puzzle experts and investigator alike.

While some of the art taken is incredibly valuable, the two men passed other, far more valuable works such as those by Raphael, Botticelli, and Michelangelo, leaving them completely undisturbed.

The thieves also never entered the third floor, where Titan’s The Rape of Europa hung, one of the city’s most precious paintings.

The seemingly random selection of art, and the ruthless ways in which they were handled led police to believe the thieves were not experts commissioned to steal specific works.

The eclectic mix of artwork – ranging from a relatively worthless bronze Chinese gu to Chez Tortoni by French painter Édouard Manet – has continued to puzzle experts and investigator alike (pictured: Anne Hawley, curator of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, answers questions at a news conference in the museum's garden area hours after the robbery)

The eclectic mix of artwork – ranging from a relatively worthless bronze Chinese gu to Chez Tortoni by French painter Édouard Manet – has continued to puzzle experts and investigator alike (pictured: Anne Hawley, curator of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, answers questions at a news conference in the museum’s garden area hours after the robbery)

Over a period of 81 minutes, a total of 13 masterpieces were removed from the museum’s walls (shown above) and stolen, never to be seen again

Over a period of 81 minutes, a total of 13 masterpieces were removed from the museum’s walls (shown above) and stolen, never to be seen again

While some of the art taken is incredibly valuable, the two men passed other, far more valuable works such as those by Raphael, Botticelli, and Michelangelo, leaving them completely undisturbed. The thieves also never entered the third floor, where Titan’s The Rape of Europa (seen above) hung, one of the city’s most precious paintings

While some of the art taken is incredibly valuable, the two men passed other, far more valuable works such as those by Raphael, Botticelli, and Michelangelo, leaving them completely undisturbed. The thieves also never entered the third floor, where Titan’s The Rape of Europa (seen above) hung, one of the city’s most precious paintings

Turner’s suspected involvement in the on-going Gardner investigation first surfaced publicly in 2016 in federal court proceedings involving Robert Gentile, a Connecticut-based mobster who was suspected by the FBI of knowing were the stolen paintings were being stashed.

In 2010, Turner wrote to Gentile in prison, instructing him to call Turner’s girlfriend who then asked Gentile to meet two of Turner’s associates about recovering the art.

Secretly cooperating with the FBI at the time, Gentile refused to meet with the two anonymous acquaintances as he feared for his safety.

Gentile, who was involved in two FBI stings designed to pressure him into helping find the art, was released from prison in March, having served four-and-a-half years on gun charges.

Speaking to the Boston Globe on Tuesday, his attorney insisted Gentile knows nothing of the art’s whereabouts, but suggested Turner did – at least at one stage.

‘Based on the information that I have seen in disclosures from the government, also from third-party sources, it’s fairly apparent that the last living person to have possession of the paintings is David Turner,’ Ryan McGuigan said.

McGuigan also said that his client would be willing to meet with Turner about the artwork if he’s interested.

But outside of court on Wednesday, Turner refused to address claims he was involved with the heist. Instead, he simply replied that he felt ‘Wonderful’ and revealed he was heading out for a trip to Disneyland.

In 2015, authorities released grainy surveillance video from the eve of the heist and appealed anew to the public for help in finding the artworks.

The low-resolution shows Rick Abath, appearing to hit an intercom button, then to grant access to a man who can be seen in the museum’s reception area at about 12:49am on March 17, 1990, almost exactly 24 hours before the heist.

Turner’s suspected involvement in the on-going Gardner investigation first surfaced publicly in 2016 in federal court proceedings involving Robert Gentile, a Connecticut-based mobster who was suspected by the FBI of knowing were the stolen paintings were being stashed

Turner’s suspected involvement in the on-going Gardner investigation first surfaced publicly in 2016 in federal court proceedings involving Robert Gentile, a Connecticut-based mobster who was suspected by the FBI of knowing were the stolen paintings were being stashed

In 2015, authorities released grainy surveillance video from the eve of the heist and appealed anew to the public for help in finding the artworks. The low-resolution shows Rick Abath, appearing to hit an intercom button, then to grant access to a man who can be seen in the museum's reception area at about 12:49am on March 17, 1990, almost exactly 24 hours before the heist

In 2015, authorities released grainy surveillance video from the eve of the heist and appealed anew to the public for help in finding the artworks. The low-resolution shows Rick Abath, appearing to hit an intercom button, then to grant access to a man who can be seen in the museum’s reception area at about 12:49am on March 17, 1990, almost exactly 24 hours before the heist 

The man is also seen getting out of a car matching the general description of one reported to be parked outside the museum minutes before the theft.

The footage appears to show a suspicion leveled at Abath, who is seen letting the mystery man into the museum in the night before.

Abath was a center of suspicion 25 years ago, since he broke protocol by letting the intruders in. He has repeatedly denied the allegations that he had anything to do with the plot.

The museum had a strict policy that stated security guards could not open the doors for anyone, including cops and firemen, without first getting permission from a supervisor.

The night of the robbery, Abath admitted to opening the doors, saying he was under the impression that it was his duty to check the security of the doors – something that higher-ups at the museum contested.

In the latest video, he is seen opening the doors yet again, shortly after the other security guard on duty appears to leave to go on his rounds.

More importantly, Abath never told investigators about letting anyone in the night before the heist. It’s unclear whether he has since been questioned by police about the incident.

After the heist, Abath went on to lead a quiet life, most recently working as a teacher’s aide. He is now in his early 50s and living in a Vermont.

It’s not immediately clear why the surveillance video had not been released before.

In 2010, Turner wrote to Robert Gentile (above) in prison, instructing him to call Turner’s girlfriend who then asked Gentile to meet two of Turner’s associates about recovering the art. Secretly cooperating with the FBI at the time, Gentile refused to meet with the two anonymous acquaintances as he feared for his safety. Gentile, who was involved in two FBI stings designed to pressure him into helping find the art, was released from prison in March, having served four-and-a-half years on gun charges.

Security guard Abath (above) was a center of suspicion 25 years ago, since he broke protocol by letting the intruders in. He has repeatedly denied the allegations that he had anything to do with the plot

Security guard Abath (above) was a center of suspicion 25 years ago, since he broke protocol by letting the intruders in. He has repeatedly denied the allegations that he had anything to do with the plot 

Lyle Grindle, who was head of security for the museum at the time, said the FBI took the tapes right after the heist and he never saw them again.

‘Someone has to explain why the security protocol was broken two nights in a row now, and I think only Rick can answer that question now,’ Grindle told the Boston Globe.

Authorities admitted that they had not analysed the tapes until 2015.

No tapes of the actual night of the heist exist, as the robbers took the footage with them.

In all the years that the fine works of art have been stolen, none of have surfaced in any legal art dealing channels.

Even if the suspects were still alive, it would be be too late to charge them with theft since the statue of limitations has expired.

However, authorities may still prosecute for possession of the stolen works.

U.S. Attorney Carmen M Ortiz said she is considering offering immunity to anyone who possesses the paintings in order to secure their return to the museum.

The FBI has taken a renewed interest in the heist in recent years.

he estimated value of the missing artwork was first believed to be in the region of $200 million. However, in the later 2000s various art dealers suggested the haul was actually likely more worth somewhere in the region of $500-$600 million

he estimated value of the missing artwork was first believed to be in the region of $200 million. However, in the later 2000s various art dealers suggested the haul was actually likely more worth somewhere in the region of $500-$600 million

A finger of suspicion was also aimed at infamous mob boss Whitey Bulger, who was killed in prison last year while serving two life sentences for 11 murders.

From the early 1970s, Bulger headed the Winter Hill Gang, an Irish-American mob that terrorised Boston for more than a decade. But he lived a double life as an FBI informant, feeding the bureau information about rival criminals.

After his arrest last year, Bulger did not volunteer information about the Gardner heist that might have brought a more lenient sentence or a more comfortable cell.

And yet, according to Charles Hill, a former Scotland Yard detective turned private investigator, Bulger was the key to the theft.

A finger of suspicion was also aimed at infamous mob boss Whitey Bulger, who was killed in prison last year while serving two life sentences for 11 murders. From the early 1970s, Bulger headed the Winter Hill Gang, an Irish-American mob that terrorised Boston for more than a decade. But he lived a double life as an FBI informant, feeding the bureau information about rival criminals

A finger of suspicion was also aimed at infamous mob boss Whitey Bulger, who was killed in prison last year while serving two life sentences for 11 murders. From the early 1970s, Bulger headed the Winter Hill Gang, an Irish-American mob that terrorised Boston for more than a decade. But he lived a double life as an FBI informant, feeding the bureau information about rival criminals 

‘On the new morning of 18 March 1990, even the dogs in the streets of south Boston must have known that Whitey was involved in some way before, during, or after the robbery,’ Hill told The Observer.

‘Whitey was an IRA sympathiser, he loved to associated himself with ‘the cause’, and was involved in arms deals and drugs shipments to the Republic.’

Hill believes the paintings were shipped to Ireland as part of a deal with an IRA-affiliated gang.

‘After a shipment of weapons and ammunition was intercepted by the Irish navy off the coast of County Kerry in 1984, Whitey felt he owed one to his friends in the Republic. I believe he offered them the paintings.

However, there is no hard evidence for this.

Hill has been an undercover detective, he has led the 1996 operation to recover Edvard Munch’s The Scream, stolen two years earlier from the National Museum of Norway.

In 1993 he led the recovery of a Vermeer and a Goya stolen in 1986 from Russborough House in County Wicklow, a theft was masterminded by Martin Cahill, a Dublin gangster known as the General, a nickname which gave title to the 1998 John Boorman film in which Brendan Gleeson played the crime boss.

According to Hill, the latter heist – with the Vermeer being the prize asset – was the inspiration for the Boston job.

The FBI announced significant progress in their investigation in March 2013. They reported ‘with a high degree of confidence’ that they identified the thieves, which they believed were members of a criminal organization based in the mid-Atlantic and New England.   

They also felt the ‘same confidence’ with their belief the artwork was transported to Connecticut and Philadelphia in the years following the theft, with an attempted sale in Philadelphia in 2002.

However, two years later the FBI said both of the suspects had since died. They did not name the men, or say where they were living but expressed disappointment that they could never been brought to justice. 

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