Location: Brentwood, Los Angeles USA
Stolen: 12 July 1992
Artworks:‘The Customs Officer’s Cabin at Pourville’ by Claude Monet, ‘Nude Before a Mirror’ by Pablo Picasso (no picture available)
Value today: approximately $9,000,000 AUD
Steven Cooperman was the ophthalmologist who purchased ‘The Customs Officer’s Cabin at Pourville’ by Claude Monet and ‘Nude Before a Mirror’ by Pablo Picasso sometime early in 1992. He was a multi-millionaire who liked to collect Impressionist and modern art, but he also had a few problems.
Cooperman had gone away on summer holidays leaving his home in the care of staff. He returned home quickly after receiving a phone call informing him that his two most expensive artworks had been stolen. The theft was reported to police on 12 July 1992.
At the time, the Los Angeles police investigating the robbery felt that the circumstances around the theft were strange and out of the ordinary. There was no evidence that the house had been burgled. Whoever had taken the artworks appeared to have keys to the house and knew how to deactivate the alarm. Also, only the Monet and the Picasso had been taken despite other valuable works also being in the house.
The Monet had been recently insured for $5m and the Picasso for $7.5m.
Cooperman was under suspicion since he was already tangled up in a lawsuit over insurance fraud, and his licence to practice medicine had been revoked in May 1992 (although he claims he surrendered his medical licence voluntarily). He had been charged with unprofessional conduct that was cited as ‘grossly negligent and incompetent’ regarding three patients he had treated in the 1980s. (The New York Times, The Art Market, 7 August 1992, pg 23)
Soon after the theft, Cooperman sued the insurance companies providing the cover for delaying and disputing payment of the $12.5m insurance claim. This resulted in a total payout of $17.5m.
Several years later in 1997, the paintings turned up in a Cleveland storage facility. Cooperman’s former lawyer then confessed during the trial on other insurance fraud charges, that he and Cooperman had collaborated in arranging the theft. It took until July 1999 for the former Los Angeles eye surgeon to be convicted of insurance fraud. He was sentenced to three years in prison.
A February 2002 court ruling resulted in a total damages payout to the insurance companies of approximately $31m. Part of this amount comprised the paintings themselves which were sold for almost $6m in total.
– apnews.com/article/18ae89bde3a0a16b4c74199b8106523d, 21 July 1999
– casemine.com/judgement/us/5914b248add7b0493475eec5, Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London v. Cooperman.