|For Immediate Release
Case # 99HF1000
September 9, 2009
|Susan Kang Schroeder
Public Affairs Counsel
FORMER FUGITIVE ART THIEF SENTENCED TO PRISON FOR STEALING $260,000 IN PAINTINGS FROM LAGUNA BEACH GALLERIES IN 1999
NEWPORT BEACH – A former fugitive art thief was convicted and sentenced to prison yesterday for stealing more than $260,000 in original paintings from Laguna Beach galleries in 1999 after being arrested earlier this year on a decade-old warrant while living under a false name in Las Vegas. Joseph Michael Killebrew, 51, pleaded guilty to the court on Sept. 8, 2009, to four felony counts of grand theft and sentencing enhancements for theft over $100,000. He was sentenced to two years and eight months in state prison and all of the stolen paintings are to be returned to their owners. A hearing for additional restitution is to be scheduled.
In April 1999, Killebrew filed a report with the San Diego Police Department claiming that his San Diego County home had been burglarized. He claimed that various items from his personal art collection had been stolen including crystal, sculptures, and over $230,000 in oil paintings. Killebrew received over $260,000 from his insurance company for the claimed losses. An insurance fraud investigation is being conducted in San Diego County related to this claim.
In July 1999, Killebrew purchased several original oil paintings valued at over $261,000 from Laguna Beach art galleries DeRus Fine Art, Redfern Gallery, and Joan Irvine Smith Fine Art. The defendant wrote four personal checks for the paintings. After leaving the galleries with the paintings, Killebrew stopped payment on the checks.
During that time, Killebrew is accused of purchasing three original oil paintings valued over $108,000 from Edenhurst Gallery in West Hollywood, and also stopping payment on the personal checks used for the purchases. The Los Angeles theft was filed as a separate case in Los Angeles County and a warrant was issued in that case.
When the galleries contacted Killebrew after failing to receive payment on his canceled checks, the defendant claimed that he had to leave the state for a family emergency and would resolve his due payments when he returned. Killebrew then fled the state.
In September 1999, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office (OCDA) charged Killebrew with grand theft and filed a warrant for his arrest. The case remained cold until November 2008, when OCDA investigators located Killebrew living in Las Vegas under the alias “Michael Palmer.”
The defendant was arrested on Feb. 25, 2009, by detectives from the Laguna Beach Police Department at his home in Las Vegas with assistance from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Killebrew was in possession of all of the Laguna Beach paintings, as well as items he claimed had been stolen in San Diego, at the time of his arrest.
Deputy District Attorney Sean O’Brien of the Major Fraud Unit prosecuted this case.