It was like The Thomas Crown Affair. Except replace Pierce Brosnan's dashing, adventure-seeking billionaire with an indigent, inept felon from South Miami.
Meet Marcus Patmon.
"He obviously was somewhat well educated in the art field," says Kreg D. Kelley, curator of Galerie Lareuse in Washington, D.C., and a victim of Patmon's bumbling ways. "He had to know you can't just go out and sell a Picasso on the street corner."
The 37-year-old — Patmon, not Thomas Crown — was released from Florida prison in 2006 after serving a little more than three years for burglary in Hillsborough County. He briefly relocated to flimflammery's mecca, our nation's capital, and at 4 a.m. this past December 12, broke a small window behind Kelley's gallery, unlocked the door, and made a beeline for a $98,000 Picasso etching titled Faune Dévoilant une Femme.
"In our 30 years of business, we'd never had a robbery, period," Kelley says. "It was shocking to lose a piece that valuable."
Patmon enjoyed his new treasure for a few months and moved back to Florida, settling into an apartment on SW 80th Street near the Palmetto Expressway. In March, he found a buyer for the Picasso — Catherine Burns, an Oakland, California art dealer.
Patmon negotiated a $58,000 deal for the self-portrait, which shows Picasso as half-man, half-minotaur.
Like Thomas Crown, Patmon didn't stop after one heist. He employed the same method — break a window at 4 a.m. and walk away with a Picasso (actually two of 'em) — at Gallery Biba in Palm Beach two months later.
Those two etchings, Jacqueline Lisant and Le Repas Frugal, were worth more than $450,000 combined.
Unfortunately, you can't exactly unload hot Picassos like a trunk full of stolen Rolexes, so Patmon decided to try his luck with Burns again, claiming his grandfather had left the etchings in his attic in Michigan. This time he made a fatal error. While negotiating the price, he dropped a little hint. "You know, a similar etching just got stolen in Palm Beach, and police said that one was worth $395,000," he told Burns.
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Alarm bells sounded in her head. She checked around, and a few months and a police sting operation later, Patmon found himself behind bars in Miami-Dade County jail, charged with felony theft.
Police say they have enough evidence to nail Patmon on the Palm Beach and Washington, D.C. thefts. But there could be more.
Call it a coincidence, but in Patmon's arrest warrant, cops note that another Florida gallery — Art Forum in Boca Raton — suffered a notable theft in June. The thief broke in through the back door.
He walked out with four Picasso lithographs.