The Art of the Heist | Tailpipe | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida

The Art of the Heist

It was like The Thomas Crown Affair. Except replace that dashing, adventure-seeking billionaire played by Pierce Brosnan with an indigent, inept felon from Miami.

Meet Marcus Patmon of South Miami.

"He obviously was somewhat well-educated in the art field," says Kreg D. Kelley, curator of the Gallery 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 three years for burglary in Hillsborough County. He briefly relocated to flim-flammery's mecca, our nation's capital, and at 4 a.m. this past December 12 broke a small glass window behind Kelley's gallery, unlocked the door, and made a beeline for a $98,000 Pablo Picasso etching called Faune Devoilant 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 in Miami near the Palmetto Expressway. In March, he found a buyer for the Picasso — Catherine Burns, an Oakland, California, art dealer.

According to police, he claimed that his grandfather had left the etching in his attic in Michigan, then negotiated a $58,000 deal for the self-portrait, which shows Picasso as half-man, half-minotaur.

Patmon couldn't stop after one heist. He employed the same method — break a window at 4 a.m., then walk away with a Picasso (actually two of 'em) — at Gallery Biba in Palm Beach two months later. The two Palm Beach etchings, Jacqueline Lisant and Le Repas Frugal, were worth more than $450,000 combined.

Unfortunately, you can't exactly unload hot Picassos like a trunkful of stolen Rolexes, so Patmon decided to try his luck a second time with Burns. While negotiating a price, he dropped this little hint: "You know, a similar etching just got stolen in Palm Beach, and police said that one was worth $395,000."

Alarm bells sounded in her head. She started checking 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 the Washington, D.C., thefts. But there could be more.

Call it a coincidence, but in Patmon's arrest warrant, police note that another Florida gallery — the Art Forum in Boca Raton — suffered a notable theft in June. The thief broke a back window and let himself into the gallery, walking out with four Picasso lithographs.

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Edmund Newton

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