BRIAN KINGMAN'S BLUE PERIOD

THE FORMER OAKLAND A'S PITCHER GOT ENTANGLED IN THE THEFT OF A MILLION-DOLLAR PICASSO. EXCEPT IT WASN'T A PICASSO.

"They were playing catch with my kids," says Kingman. "The dad was smoking a cigar out in the front yard, saying, 'Well, Arizona's all right. I like your fruit trees, but are there any good Italian restaurants around?'"
Finally, they got in touch with Burns, who put them on the line with the man they thought was Thomas Bishop. "Bishop" asked Kingman if he had seen the painting yet--which he hadn't--then asked if Kingman and the Mauriellos could meet with him the next morning at Scottsdale Municipal Airport.

Kingman took the Mauriellos to lock the painting into an underground storage vault on Seventh Street for safekeeping, then checked the Mauriellos into the least seamy motel he could find on Van Buren to wait for the morning meeting.

If life does not imitate art, it at least sometimes imitates bad TV. The FBI went to comic lengths to arrest Kingman and the Mauriellos. In fact, they went so far as to commandeer a private jet as a prop to convey just the right touch of international glitz to their sting operation.

"Why didn't they just come to my house?" asks the usually low-key Kingman. "Why did they have to have a gunpoint confrontation?"
The FBI tape recording of the meeting between "art expert Bishop" and the Mauriellos sounds like a comedy routine. It opens with "Bishop" shouting, "Yo, Reno, where's da booze?" in a voice that can best be compared to Joe Pesci playing a Goombah movie role. Brian Kingman's voice barely turns up on the tape, but the other voices are as distinctive as "Bishop's": Steve Mauriello's smoky Paul Anka tenor and his father's gravelly Luca Brasi baritone. "Bishop" clearly has the biggest speaking role. He goes on and on about the convenience of having his own private jet with which to flit about Europe buying Rembrandts and Caravaggios. He brags about its great range and how much time he spends on it. Then--whoops!--he realizes that he has led them onto the wrong plane altogether. "I really don't like this one," he says to cover the goof. "I had a bigger jet, but we sold it." Then you can almost hear him shooting his cuffs as he proudly exclaims, "I got a little present last night from one of my customers in Phoenix: a Rolex!"

"Oh my God, let me see that," the old man coos.
"Bishop" then wants to hold the painting under black light to perform the usual art-expert tests and other feats of prestidigitation, but is unable to get the batteries into the lamp he brought; all through the tape, one person after another announces that he can't get the "fucking batteries" into the lamp, and they finally give up.

But they are becoming good friends. "Bishop" tells Roy Mauriello that he looks like Pablo Picasso, and Roy responds warmly by telling "Bishop," "You know, you take that beard off, you're a good-looking man."

They chat about the boys in the old neighborhood in New York. "Jerry Vale, he's a very, very good friend of mine," says the old man, trying to make points.

Finally, the father's patience begins to wear thin and he gruffly asks, "How long will this take?" "Bishop" gets to the point: He will pay them $500,000 for the painting, then spirit it out of the country. Kingman, who has been asleep with open eyelids, suddenly wakes up. The Mauriellos seem so stunned that they roll over without haggling about the price. Then they hang themselves. Roy blurts out, "I got news for you. You know what we're getting in two weeks from now?"

"A Rembrandt," Steve pipes in, as if father and son are accustomed to completing each other's sentences. With the deal done, they all walk back to Kingman's truck. Next stop: FBI headquarters.

As Kingman sat handcuffed to a bar in the FBI building on Indianola, he wondered if he'd get home in time to pick up his young sons from school. His wife was out of town and would not accept arrest as a good excuse for not being on time for the children.

His truck and his keys were confiscated, so when he was released that afternoon, he took a cab home and climbed in a window of his house. He found the boys walking home by themselves.

Then he found out more about the Mauriellos. "I certainly didn't think of the Mafia," Kingman says, "but the next day when I read the paper, it said 'Gambino family.' It scared me, really. They were at my house. The only thing worse than the Mafia is my wife when she's pissed at me."

Though the initial media reports identified the father and son as "made men," Detective Joseph Keenan of the New York Police Department knocked them down to size. "That's erroneous," Keenan says. "They might possibly have been associates of the Gambino family. They may have been seen in the company of major crime figures."

But they had records: The older man had done time for distribution of narcotics and both had been arrested numerous times for gambling violations.

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