The Big Heist: News 8 sits down with CT man at center of decades-old investigation into world’s biggest art heists

News 8 Exclusive

CONNECTICUT (WTNH) — More than half a billion dollars worth of rare art was stolen 31 years ago and has never been found. The investigation has focused on one man from Connecticut: Robert Gentile.

News 8’s Chief Political Anchor Dennis House’s sat down with Gentile to learn about him, talk about the crime, and ask him what he knows.

For years, Gentile, now a grandfather, has been seen on local and national television in a wheelchair coming in and out of court and prison but he has never given a TV interview.

Gentile invited House to his home for his first television interview ever. Gentile had his attorney Ryan McGuigan present.

He sat and talked beneath a piece of art he cherishes dearly.

“I bought this at a flea market before I got married,” he said of the piece. “It’s been here for 65 years. I never moved it.”

It’s an old, cheap print that Gentile insists is the most valuable artwork ever to be in his house.

The FBI disagrees.

The story begins in Boston on the day after Saint Patrick’s Day 1990. In the middle of the night, two men posing as police officers were allowed into Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum by two security guards whom the the intruders then tied up and gagged. The intruders brought the guards to the basement and stole the VHS tape to the security system.

The burglars stole more than half a billion dollars worth of rate art, including works by Vermeer, Rembrandt, Manet, and Degas.

The paintings were crudely cut from their frames.

The crime made international news and immediately the focus of the investigation turned to organized crime in Boston. But, for 20 years, all leads turned up empty.

The FBI said little about the case until 2013 when they announced a $5 million reward and made a stunning announcement.

“FBI agents developed crucial pieces of evidence that confirmed the identity of those who entered the museum and others who belong to a criminal organization,” the FBI said in their announcement.

WATCH: FBI has clues in Boston art heist 2013

At that time, the FBI didn’t identify the robbers or say if they were alive or dead, but did reveal a Connecticut connection.

They also announced they believe the stolen art went from Boston to Connecticut to Philadelphia. The art, or at least some of it, reportedly ended up in Maine.

And that’s where Gentile comes in.

A woman from Maine, Elene Guarente, had reportedly told investigators her husband, Bobby Guarente, handed two of the paintings to Gentile back in 2003.

Gentile said of Elene, who died only three years ago, “She’s crazy. She’s bi-polar. She’s nuts, I know she was nuts.”

Bobby was a friend of Gentile and a well-known figure in organized crime in Boston. Bobby was reportedly always a suspect in the heist and photos of him are hard to come by.

When News 8 asked Gentile, “Mrs. Guarente…she witnessed her husband hand you a painting at a hotel in Maine?” Gentile responded, “Out and out lie.”

Based on what Elene told the FBI, the search for the missing art put Gentile and his home in Manchester, CT in the national spotlight as investigators descended on his property.

You may recall, nine years ago, News 8 was on the scene at Gentile’s home in Manchester where the feds were digging for those missing paintings.

During one of the searches, the FBI said agents found a handwritten list of the paintings with their black market values on them. They found other things, but no sign of the art.

The reward for the person who helps find the paintings is now up to $10-million.

Our series on The Big Heist continues: Who is Robert ‘Bobby the Cook’ Gentile and what did the FBI find at his Manchester home?

Our series concludes: The Big Heist: Why Robert Gentile says the investigation into the biggest art heist in history has ruined his life

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