In 2013, thieves took six paintings – by the patriarch of a celebrated art family – from Portland landlord Joe Soley. Here’s what we know after some of those were recovered.

A career criminal was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Portland for transporting four stolen N.C. Wyeth paintings valued at more than $1 million, providing a glimpse into the mystery surrounding a 2013 art heist from well-known Old Port landlord Joseph Soley.

Lawrence Estrella, 65, of Manchester, New Hampshire, pleaded guilty to interstate transportation of stolen property in April and was sentenced to seven years and eight months for transporting four of the six N.C. Wyeth paintings stolen from Soley’s downtown apartment during a May 2013 break-in. Nothing else was disturbed during the theft.

The four paintings, which have been recovered, were set to be sold at a California pawn shop that’s the setting for a reality TV show. Two of the paintings remain missing.

Soley said he spent 50 years accumulating the N.C. Wyeth artwork, and was “shocked” to find they had been removed from his apartment when he returned from a trip on May 7, 2013.

“It means a lot to me that the paintings have been returned,” he told the media after Tuesday’s sentencing hearing. “The FBI has done a brilliant job investigating the case.”


However, details of how the scheme was carried out have not been released. Soley believes the FBI is still investigating.

“That’s the mystery, is we don’t know how this all came together. It’s very strange,” said Soley, who wouldn’t disclose the location of his apartment.

He said the FBI told him that a book club meeting – during which the paintings were displayed – he hosted about six months before the break-in was not connected to the theft. Assistant U.S. Attorney David Joyce and FBI agents declined to be interviewed by the Press Herald after Tuesday’s hearing.

Wyeth was born in Massachusetts and split his time between Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, and Maine. Wyeth is famous for many of his paintings and illustrations in children’s books and depicting classic literature, such as “Treasure Island,” “Robin Hood” and “The Last of the Mohicans.” He is the father of Andrew Wyeth, one of the best-known artists of the last century.

Soley said he got to know the Wyeths, particularly Andrew Wyeth, when he owned a summer home in Camden and the Wyeths lived nearby.



He is making a public plea asking for the return of the two paintings that remain missing: “Go Dutton, and that right speedily” and “The Encounter on Freshwater Cliff.”

“I am hoping someone reads about this, has some information and will come forward,” Soley said.

The four recovered paintings are: “The Unwrit Dogma,” “At a touch from Michael’s knife,” “The Duel” and “John Brimlecombe.”

Soley, who is known for tangling with the city over code violations and the condition of the buildings he owns, declined to give his age, but said he was a veteran of the Korean War and moved to Maine as a full-time resident more than 30 years ago.

Court documents list the four recovered paintings being worth about $1 million, though Soley said it’s difficult to estimate the value of the paintings and that they could be worth a lot more – perhaps $50 million.

Estrella pleaded guilty to one count of interstate transportation of stolen property, a felony, but has a lengthy criminal history that includes robberies and breaking and entering, Joyce said.


“This is not your ordinary 65-year-old man,” Joyce said. “This man has led a life of crime.”

U.S. District Judge George Singal said that as a lifelong criminal Estrella deserved a sentence beyond federal sentencing guidelines that indicated he would be in prison for 41-51 months.

“He has a lifetime of being convicted and going out and committing other offenses. Mr. Estrella is a danger to society,” Singal said.

Defense attorney David Beneman recommended a shorter sentence, saying Estrella has a host of health problems, was remorseful and “succumbed to someone else’s ‘get-rich-quick’ scheme.” Beneman declined to comment on the case after the hearing.

On Nov. 23, 2014, police located Estrella’s green Mercedes in the parking lot of a Comfort Inn in North Hollywood, California, and began surveillance of Estrella, court records said. Less than a month later, on Dec. 19, 2014, police recovered four of the six stolen paintings from a pawn shop in Beverly Hills.

Also implicated in the criminal case was aspiring rapper Oscar Roberts, 37, of Los Angeles, who was sentenced to 28 months in federal prison, according to the Beverly Hills Courier.

Roberts took the paintings to the Dina Collection, a Beverly Hills pawn shop that’s featured on “Beverly Hills Pawn” on the Reelz network, for a $100,000 loan.

Dina Collection owner Yossi Dina called police after suspecting they were stolen, according to the newspaper.

It’s not clear whether Estrella and Roberts were working together.

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