Phivos Istavrioglou, who also left fingerprints that helped detectives track him down, will be sentenced on Tuesday.
The second the 29-year-old Istavrioglou walked out of the Manhattan gallery last summer with the Dali watercolor and onto Fifth Avenue, he "was scared and couldn't believe what a stupid thing he did," according to reports.
Prosecutors accused Istavrioglou of stealing "Cartel de Don Juan Tenorio" in broad daylight while visiting New York in June. After pulling it off the wall at the Upper East Side gallery, he stashed it in a shopping bag and flew with it back to Athens, authorities said.
"It was almost surreal how this theft was committed - a thief is accused of putting a valuable Salvador Dali drawing into a shopping bag in the middle of the afternoon, in full view of surveillance cameras," District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said.
Shortly after learning authorities had distributed security photos of him that were seen around the world, Istavrioglou took the $150,000 work out of its frame. He then rolled it up in a cardboard tube - "in a manner befitting a college dorm poster" - and mailed it back to New York without a return address, prosecutor Jordan Arnold said.
New York Police Department detectives lifted fingerprints from the shipment that matched one from a juice bottle that they say Istavrioglou shoplifted last year from a Whole Foods market, giving them a name, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said. An investigator posing as an art gallery owner later tricked Istavrioglou into returning to New York by offering him a possible position as a consultant.
Federal agents intercepted Istavrioglou at John F. Kennedy International Airport last month. While speaking to detectives, court papers say, he "indicated he knew the theft would catch up to him and wants to make (the) situation right."
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