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Thief attempts to steal Picasso, Warhol paintings from Arizona art gallery

Jan 9, 2024, 1:51 PM

An attempted art heist at the American Fine Art Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, ends with a dramati...

An attempted art heist at the American Fine Art Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, ends with a dramatic rooftop takedown of a suspect trying to make off with a haul of high-end artwork, including some of the biggest names in the world of art. (KPHO)

(KPHO)

(CNN) — An attempted art heist in Scottsdale, Arizona ended with a dramatic rooftop takedown of a suspect trying to make off with a haul of high-end artwork, including some of the biggest names in the world of art. While police made the arrest, one piece is still missing.

Police say 32-year-old Harpreet Singh was attempting to steal seven pieces by artists including Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol. Initial reports valued the pieces at $250,000, but the gallery director now believes it could’ve been a multimillion-dollar heist.

From outside the American Fine Art Gallery near Scottsdale and Indian School Roads, you wouldn’t know that there are empty spots on their studio walls. “Definitely gets the gears turning into why anybody would take that risk,” said Phillip Payne, an artist and the owner of Anticus Fine Art, just across the street from where the attempted burglary happened Sunday.

The signs on the building allude to artwork by big-name artists like Banksy and Warhol, artists that may have attracted Singh, who was accused of removing seven paintings from the walls of the gallery Sunday. “I was actually here at 5 a.m., watching it all go down. I saw the guy on the roof, and so it was an action-packed morning,” Payne said.

Access inside the Arizona art gallery

Singh is believed to have entered the gallery through an emergency access ladder, triggering an alarm system. He was eventually arrested on the roof, where police recovered clothing, including a face mask and gloves and even a small drill, flashlight, and a glass-break tool. “We think it was more of a targeted type of thing,” said DJ Payne, a gallery assistant at Legacy Gallery. “They knew what they were going for and they went there for that.”

Despite the news, other art galleries nearby are not on high alert, saying with high-priced items come high-priced alarm systems. “People put their heart and souls into creating these pieces. It sometimes takes 2 to 3 years to create a single piece, so making sure we’re protecting the artists’ livelihood. We put a lot into making sure things are locked down and we have cameras and security systems,” said Payne.

“Well-thought-out operation”

Former FBI agent Jim Egelston describes this as a well-thought-out operation. “Just to attempt a theft of an art gallery, to me indicates some level of sophistication,” he said.

It’s led him to believe there could be more to this story. “Perhaps there was a buyer already in line for the pieces of art that were stolen. It would be very difficult to pawn items of priceless art that are very unique, it would be hard to sell those online,” Egelston said.

Singh is facing several felonies, including burglary, a crime he’s already been convicted of out of California. In his first court appearance on Monday morning, he asked the judge for a reduction in his bond. Due to his criminal record, the judge chose to keep it at $50,000.

With an original Keith Haring piece still missing, Scottsdale Police are asking anyone with information to come forward.

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Thief attempts to steal Picasso, Warhol paintings from Arizona art gallery