Art Thief Gets 2-Year Prison Term

By: Peter Shinkle, of the Post-Dispatch
(reprinted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), November 9, 2005)

A man was sentenced Tuesday to two years in prison for conspiring to steal art valued at up to $4 million — including works by Picasso and Matisse — from a storage company at about the time it moved from St. Louis to Bridgeton.

Forty-two pieces of the stolen art, with an estimated value of $1.2 million, remain missing, a prosecutor said.

Donald R. Rasch pleaded guilty Aug. 25 of conspiracy to transport stolen goods in interstate commerce, admitting that he and another defendant, Biron A. Valier Jr., stole 133 works in June 2002.

The two men, former employees of Fine Arts Express, also admitted they falsely claimed to own the art when they sold it in 2003 and 2004. Rasch sold eight pieces to a Ladue businessman, while Valier sold eight pieces through a Ladue art gallery, federal prosecutors said.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw questioned Rasch’s attorney and a prosecutor about the 42 pieces that remain missing despite the cooperation of the two defendants

Defense attorney John Rogers said his client did all that he could to locate the art, recovering pieces “later that he found in a garage.”

Assistant U.S. attorney Matthew Drake said: “The government has done what it can, through investigation, to find out where these pieces are.”

Shaw expressed dissatisfaction with the explanations. Rogers then shifted blame toward Valier, saying: “He’s the guy running around brokering deals with galleries.”

Valier, who pleaded guilty in the case Sept. 1, could not be reached for comment. His attorney, William Margulis, said Valier dealt with only one gallery, Kodner Galleries, and all the stolen art he took has been returned by Valier or recovered by the FBI.

Ultimately, the judge made both defendants jointly liable to pay the victims $1,194,410, the estimated value of the missing pieces of art.

The victims are David and Diane Harter of Florida, a couple who had kept the art in storage in Missouri as an investment for nearly a decade while moving from Nebraska to Arizona and then to Florida.

Before the sentence was imposed, Rasch, 44, of the 1400 block of Quendo Avenue in University City, told the judge: “I am very remorseful for the mistake I made, for all the victims involved.”

Observing from the back row of the courtroom on Tuesday was Stuart Slavin, who with another man bought eight of the pieces from Rasch for about $80,000.

It was Slavin’s efforts to verify the ownership that led to the discovery that they had belonged to the Harters.

Slavin and the other buyer, Daniel Lieberman, have filed a lawsuit against the Harters, seeking to obtain ownership of the art. Slavin says he and a partner bought the pieces after Rasch told him he had inherited them from his late grandfather.