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Stolen Henri Matisse Painting Recovered by FBI

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on July 20, 2012 7:06 AM

A $3 million Henri Matisse painting stolen from a South American art museum has been found in Florida, and the alleged thieves were caught red-handed. Or make that, red pants-ed.

Matisse's "Odalisque in Red Pants" was stolen from a museum in Venezuela in 2002 and replaced with a fake, CNN reports. An international painting-hunt ensued, but authorities failed to track down the pricey masterpiece.

That is, until Tuesday, when a man and a woman allegedly tried to sell the pilfered painting to undercover FBI agents in Miami.

While it marks an end to the mystery, it may also paint a possible defense for the alleged thieves.

The alleged Matisse painting-stealers were identified as Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, 46, of Miami, and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, 50, of Mexico City, CNN reports. They're charged with transporting and possessing stolen property.

Marcuello Guzman allegedly told FBI agents he knew the painting was stolen before he and Ornelas Lazo sold it to them at a local hotel. The pair demanded $1.5 million for the artwork, Miami's WPLG-TV reports.

The involvement of undercover FBI agents may raise questions about entrapment. But because the pair likely possessed the stolen painting even before FBI agents asked to buy it, that defense probably won't work.

The pair may also try to claim they didn't know the painting was stolen. But Marcuello Guzman's alleged admission suggests they did.

If convicted, the alleged Matisse painting thieves could each face up to 10 years in prison. The two are set to appear in court Friday.

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