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The Times' criminal justice team looks behind the scenes and behind the headlines.

May 11, 2010 at 11:09 AM

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Former Seattle art dealer Kurt Lidtke arrested in theft probe

Posted by John de Leon



TIMES FILE PHOTO

Kurt Lidtke, standing with one of his attorneys, waits for a victim in his case to speak to the court during sentencing in October 2007.

Former Seattle art dealer Kurt Lidtke was arrested Tuesday morning following an undercover FBI investigation into an alleged scheme to resell expensive artwork stolen from Seattle homes, including works by Rembrandt and noted Northwest artist Morris Graves.

Litdke and two others have been charged with to conspiracy to transport stolen property in interstate commerce.

Lidtke, the former owner of Kurt Lidtke Galleries in Seattle, was arrested in Bozeman, Mont. Also arrested and charged were Jerry H. Christy, aka Nick Natti, and Georgia Christy, aka Monica Natti, at their Granite Falls home.

They will make make an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Seattle Tuesday afternoon.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Lidtke and the Christys conspired to steal valuable artwork from homes in the Seattle area and sell it to a buyer in Oregon. The buyer was an undercover agent with the FBI. In the course of the investigation, the FBI recovered numerous paintings and a sculpture that had been stolen in a Seattle burglary in November 2009, the U.S Attorney's Office said.

According to a news release, the FBI conducted surveillance of the three defendants and their possible targets. Earlier this month, the FBI had Seattle police contact Christy while he was parked in a van outside a targeted home, thre news release says. Christy allegedly provided false identification documents in the name "Nick Natti" to the police officers. He was not detained, but the FBI opted to make arrests Tuesday to prevent additional burglaries, the news release says.

Paintings recovered in the course of the investigation include two by Graves, one by Mark Tobey, and a Rembrandt etching. Some of the recovered art was stolen as early as 2004, the news release says.

To view the charging documents, click here.

In October 2007, Lidtke was sentenced to 40 months in prison after he pleaded guilty to nine counts of theft. From 1999 to 2004, Lidtke went to the homes of art collectors and signed agreements to sell on consignment the works by artists in the Northwest School. The owners were not compensated, court records say, nor were the paintings returned.

Former Seattle Times art critic Sheila Farr wrote about Lidtke's earlier criminal case in this 2007 story.

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