"Odalisque in Red Pants" by Henri Matisse
The courier pulled the $3.7 million Henri Matisse painting from a red tube, carefully unrolling the bundle for the would-be buyers.
The piece, Odalisque in Red Pants, was wrapped in other paintings to make it less conspicuous. After all, moving a stolen French masterpiece through international airports and Miami streets isnt easy.
Documents released by the U.S. Attorneys Office detail how a pair of undercover agents posing as buyers tracked down the 1925 painting and finally arrested Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, 46, of Miami, and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, 50, of Mexico City.
The painting, missing from a Venezuelan museum for about a decade, had been swapped for a forgery at the Caracas Contemporary Art Museum.
The museum purchased the piece in 1981 for more than $400,000. It was on loan for a short time to a Spanish exhibit in 1997.
In December 2002, the museum reported it painting stolen. A few months later, museum leaders told the public about the theft.
While the theft itself remains unsolved, Marcuello told the FBI it was an inside job supporting museum director Rita Salvestrini suspicions that the painting was taken by someone with access to the museum.
Investigators from Venezuela, Spain, France, Britain, Interpol and the FBI pursued an array of leads, according to an AP article after the theft. And rumors circulated like wildfire with guesses as to where it would end up.
A Caracas newspaper suggested the swap happened during the loan in Spain. The AP said French police were investigating a lead that the painting was taken to Matisses home country. The AP also reported the FBI suspected the painting was taken by a Venezuelan woman living in Miami Beach, who stored the painting in Miami before smuggling it to Spain.
Marcuello told an FBI agent that a friend had tried to sell the painting in Spain, but it fell through when he couldnt agree on a price. It didnt say whether the painting was in Spain during the time of the arranged sale.
The piece found its way to Ornelas home in Mexico City, where she looked up the piece online to see what she was dealing with. Her husband is one of Marcuellos main associates, Marcuello told the FBI.
After an agent met with Marcuello, he arranged for Ornelas to get a visa, hop on a plane and come to Miami with the painting. She carried the multi-million-dollar artwork through customs Monday at Miami International Airport.
After a few meetings at a coffee shop and a Miami Beach restaurant, the two agents made arrangements to meet in a room at the Loews Hotel to purchase the painting from Marcuello and Ornelas.
Agents promptly arrested the duo.
A hearing is set for Friday. They are accused of possession of stolen property and face a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted. A previous version of this article misspelled then name of Matisse's painting.