LA Police work to track down owners of stolen art

iStock(LOS ANGELES) -- The Los Angeles police department has launched a program to track down stolen art.

Operation Demetra, named after a similar European task force, was launched in June after an auction house contacted police to say they had received a few paintings they suspected were stolen.

The LAPD was able to link the paintings back to art pieces that went missing years ago and eventually recovered more than 100 items from several warehouses in Los Angeles and one in Orange County.

“Art theft is really rare. It’s a specific item,” Los Angeles Detective Mel Vergara told ABC News.

Some of the pieces that were recovered in June include signed lithographs of pictures by Pablo Picasso, antiques such as furniture and firearms, and collectibles signed by the likes of Grace Kelly and U.S. Presidents.

“Some of these paintings don’t have the artists’ names because a lot of them were damaged and stuff,” said Detective Vergara. “They weren’t properly stored.”

Vergara said he has reached out to local art experts from the Getty Museum, the Broad and even the Autry Museum to uncover the details of each found art piece.

One of the art pieces that was stolen in 1992 and recovered in the heist was worth $60,000. Vergara thinks the rest of the art pieces are worth thousands.

In an effort to find the owners of each art piece, the LAPD has posted photos of the artwork online.

“We want to be able to ID them to owners or to relatives that are living and to get a hold of them,” said Detective Vergara. “We’d be more than happy to unite them to it.”

The LAPD has been cracking down on art thefts since the '90s.

When a number of robberies occurred in areas across the West LA, a unique two-detective LAPD task force was created to find art that had been stolen, Vergara said. It was the first of its kind the LAPD was the only force in the country dedicated to finding stolen artwork. Because of their efforts, over $100M worth of art has been recovered.

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