Published September 2020 on Spotfiy

401: Robert Wittman | The Undercover Hunt for Stolen Art

1. Introduction

Bob Wittman, the founder of the FBI's art crime team, shares insights on how art is used for illegal activities, tips and tricks of undercover agents, and how they manage two lives at once.+

2. Art Theft Insights

The Cost of Art:Robert Wittman discusses the rise of art crime and the estimated financial loss of six billion dollars in 2000. He explains that the value of art has increased significantly since then, leading to an even higher financial loss. Wittman also touches on why art is a target for criminals despite its cumbersome nature.+
Art Theft Logistics:Robert explains why art is a popular item for criminals to steal due to its portability and lack of legal restrictions compared to cash, drugs, and guns. He also notes that stolen artwork is often small and easy to transport.+
The Value of Stolen Art:Robert explains that most criminals involved in art theft are not art aficionados, but rather steal art for the potential profit. The real challenge in art theft is selling the stolen artwork without good title. Without good title, the artwork is essentially worthless.+

3. Art Theft Investigations

Art Theft Investigations:Robert Wittman, a former FBI agent, discusses the world of art theft investigations with Jordan. They cover the most common places where art is stolen from, the challenges of finding buyers for stolen art, and the efforts of European countries to recover stolen art.+
Art Theft Investigation:Robert Wittman discusses the late start of art theft investigation in the United States and the creation of the art crime team in 2005. He also explains the importance of art theft investigation and recovery, and how other countries have dedicated teams to protect their antiquities.+

4. Art Theft Sentencing

Art Theft Sentencing:Robert explains how art theft is viewed as property crime and how it is sentenced based on the value of the stolen property. However, cultural property theft is now given additional sentencing points, which is a new development since 2003.Show transcript +
Recovering Stolen Art:Robert Wittman, a former FBI agent, shares his passion for recovering stolen art and the unique challenges that come with it. Wittman explains the importance of knowing the art market and conducting undercover investigations to recover priceless pieces of cultural history.+

5. Art Recovery Stories

Art Theft:Robert shares a story about the recovery of North Carolina's copy of the Bill of Rights, which was stolen by a Union soldier in 1865. He explains how they had to do an undercover operation to recover it because it was being offered for sale and there was a fear that it might go into the wrong hands and be destroyed.+
Art Theft:Robert Wittman, a former FBI agent, shares his experience in recovering stolen art pieces. He explains why thieves try to keep these pieces in good shape and the importance of preserving the art's value. Wittman also shares a funny story about transporting the Bill of Rights.+

6. Sponsors

Bob Wittman joins the show to discuss his career as an FBI art crime team member. The hosts also talk about the benefits of Cuts Clothing and Better Help therapy services.+

7. Art Heists

Art Heists:Robert Wittman, an art theft expert, discusses the lack of business skills among art thieves and how it affects their ability to sell stolen art. He gives an example of an ancient Chinese crystal ball that was stolen and found in a housekeeper's room.+
Crystal Ball Witch:Robert Wittman shares the story of how he recovered a stolen 50-pound crystal ball worth $350,000 by tracking down a witch who received it as a gift from a man who found it in the trash. The crystal ball was used by the witch to start fires when the sun hit it.+

8. Crystal Ball Story

The Crystal Ball:Robert Wittman, a former FBI agent, talks about a crystal ball that was stolen and later recovered. He explains how the ball was made and the interesting story behind it. Wittman also shares how he became an expert in art and joined the FBI.+
Art Undercover:Robert shares his experience working for the FBI and how his background in the antique business helped him in undercover operations involving art theft. He emphasizes the importance of staying close to the truth and using first names in undercover work.+

9. Art Fraud Tactics

Art Fraud:Robert shares his experience of going undercover for six months in Santa Fe, New Mexico, dealing with native American art and how he played the role of a buyer to prove fraud. He also talks about the importance of taking on the right role to work undercover.+
Undercover Tactics:Robert shares his tactics for working undercover, including collecting evidence and recovering artwork, to prove the elements of statutes and bring criminals to justice. He also discusses the importance of gaining evidence and recoveries for successful investigations.+
Art Recovery:Robert shares his experience in recovering stolen art, emphasizing the importance of both getting the art back and putting the thief away. He explains how most stolen art eventually comes back on the market or after the owner's death, and how records help in its recovery.+

10. Undercover Techniques

Undercover Techniques:Robert shares his experience of working undercover and explains the importance of building relationships with criminals in order to gain their trust. He also discusses the stress and difficulty of constantly lying and the need to always stay one step ahead in the game of undercover work.+
Avoiding Bad Influences:Robert shares his experience on how to avoid getting influenced by bad people while doing undercover work. He talks about how he would control the situation from the beginning, by discussing his family and his disinterest in partying. He also shares how he would avoid drinking or taking drugs by telling them about his alcohol problem and how it would affect his work. Robert emphasizes the importance of using basic human concepts to connect with people and avoid driving a wedge between him and the target.+

11. Balancing Undercover Work

Balancing undercover work:Robert Wittman discusses how he balanced his undercover work with his personal life, including how he would switch between his roles and how he kept them separate. He also shares some of the challenges he faced while doing so.+
Quitting Undercover Work:Robert shares his experience of losing the edge and fear while doing undercover work. He emphasizes the importance of trusting your intuition and how fear can be invaluable in such situations. He also talks about quitting undercover work when he realized that he had lost the edge.+

12. Sponsors

Jordan Harbinger shares how ZipRecruiter can help employers find qualified candidates with their powerful matching technology, making hiring efficient and effective.+

13. Fear as an Asset

Using Fear as an Asset:Robert discusses how fear can be used as an asset in undercover operations, giving an edge to notice everything more clearly. He also explains the importance of finding a decoy to create rapport and how befriending before betraying can make it harder to carry out the operation.+
Understanding Criminals:Robert Wittman, a former criminal investigator, discusses the importance of understanding the good in criminals in order to manipulate and befriend them during undercover work. He also talks about the conflict and stress that comes with arresting criminals who have families and the need to understand their background and psychology.+

14. Undercover and Art Recovery

Life as an Undercover Agent:Robert shares his experience of working on undercover operations and how it takes over your life. He talks about the deflation that comes with solving a case and having to start over again. However, he finds the next case to always be the most interesting. Jordan asks about the satisfaction of bringing in the SWAT team and Robert shares his favorite code phrase.+
Art Recovery Tactics:Robert Wittman shares his tactics for recovering stolen art, including using photos from the FBI stolen art website to identify stolen pieces being offered for sale in Madrid. Wittman also discusses his love for holding and examining recovered art pieces.+

15. Art Theft Insights

Art Theft Security:Robert discusses the differences between art theft in Europe and the United States, highlighting the importance of security measures in preventing theft. He also mentions the prevalence of fraud in the US art market.+
Museum vs Bank:Robert Wittman discusses the differences between robbing a museum and a bank, and why he believes bank robbery is easier. He also shares insights on the mindset of criminals and how he prepares for undercover operations.+

16. Art Forgery Insights

The Art of Forgery:Ken, a talented painter, turned to forging to make ends meet. He discusses how he creates forgeries that mimic the styles of world-renowned artists. Robert Wittman, an art expert, explains how copying masters is a traditional way for artists to learn, but the real art of an artist is being able to paint what they see in their own unique way.+
Art and Creativity:Robert Wittman discusses the difference between real artists who create and grow throughout their lives, versus forgers who simply repeat the same thing over and over. He uses examples like Dali and Picasso to illustrate his point. Later in the episode, Wittman talks about the FBI's use of yachts and hotel rooms during undercover operations.+
Art Theft Insights:Jordan and Bob discuss the corrupt art world, the inside job of most museum thefts, and the FBI's art crime division.+

17. Outro

Jordan shares insights on how to connect with great people and manage relationships, similar to what Bob Wittman had to do as an undercover. He emphasizes the importance of digging the well before getting thirsty and applying what you hear on the show to live what you listen.+