The Art Thief Known as “Spider-Man” Sentenced to 8 Years for $110M Paris Heist

Photo: BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images.

Cat burglar extraordinaire Vjeran Tomic, 49, who earned the name “Spider-Man” by his ability to scale the facades of wealthy Parisian homes, was sentenced to eight years in prison on Monday, February 20, for a 2010 heist that has been described as one of the biggest thefts in years, valued at a whopping $110 million.

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The theft occurred in a pre-dawn break in at the Musée d’Art Moderne, which stands in the posh 16th Arrondissement on the Seine River, opposite the Eiffel Tower. Tomic used acid to dislodge a windowpane, then slipped inside to steal Still Life with Candlestick, a 1922 painting by Fernand Léger. When the motion-detector alarms, which had not functioned in two months, failed to go off, Tomic took advantage of this unexpected turn of events.

Woman with a Fan by Amedeo Modigliani. Photo: DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

Woman with a Fan by Amedeo Modigliani. Photo: DON EMMERT/AFP/Getty Images)

With the security system down, Tomic wandered through the museum for an hour, easily evading the three guards on duty at the time in the massive museum, home to some 8,000 works. Although he had come to steal the Léger, he seized the opportunity to take more work, nabbing Pablo Picasso’s Green Peas (1912), Henri Matisse’s Pastoral (1905), Amedeo Modlgliani’s Woman with a Fan (1919), and Georges Braque’s Olive Tee near Estaque (1906). Tomic stated that he took the additional paintings because he liked them.

Although three guards were on duty at the time, the robbery was not discovered until the next day when the museum reopened. All that remained were empty frames. The paintings have not been recovered.

Antiques dealer Jean-Michel Corvez, 61, was found guilty of ordering the heist on behalf of an unnamed client and sentenced to seven years in prison. Watch dealer Yonathan Burn, 40, who hid the paintings received a sentence of six years. In addition to the prison sentences, all three men were jointly fined $110 million, covering the value of the missing artworks.

Tomic, who has 14 prior convictions, is no stranger to the criminal justice system. He was arrested in May 2011 after the police received an anonymous tip describing someone who fit his description hanging out at the museum in the days prior to the theft.

In court, Tomic modeled himself as a modern day Arsène Lupin, the fictional gentleman thief and master of disguise starring in some 17 novels and 39 novellas penned by Maurice Leblanc during the first half of the twentieth century. The Telegraph reported that during the trial the prosecution determined Tomic was “nothing of a gentleman” even if his “professionalism verges on excellent.”

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.