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.

The Mauriellos and Kingman were all charged with trafficking in stolen property. But when the Feds determined that the painting was a fake worth less than $5,000, they dropped all charges.

But it took ten months to reach that conclusion--which the FBI could have easily reached before it set up the sting in the first place. The New York City Police report clearly stated that the painting's owner had labeled it a copy and didn't particularly want it back since he had the original in a safe place.

Recently, art experts have questioned whether an original even exists. No painting called "La Mujer" appears in catalogues of Picasso's work, and after viewing a photograph of the purloined painting, John Richardson, an art historian and author of the multivolume biography A Life of Picasso, told the New York Observer, "There's no question in my mind that the painting is a roaring fake. I would've thought anybody with experience with Picasso would've spotted it instantly."

Kingman thought he was free, but the Feds had not really discarded all their hard work; they had merely passed it on to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. Their subpoena announced itself as a registered letter that arrived at Christmastime.

"First thing I'm thinking is not what is it, but don't let Dianne find out," Kingman says.

Even after Kingman reported downtown to be fingerprinted, no one would tell him what he had been charged with. He was told that he would be appointed an attorney who would answer all his questions.

Now he stands charged with theft and possession of stolen property. If he is convicted, he may have to serve out seven and a half years for probation violation and a possible five more for the new crime. If what he did was a crime.

Kingman's trial has been repeatedly pushed further and further into the future as lawyers for both sides wade through their discovery process. Meanwhile, he harbors a long list of questions about his case. He wonders why Sonny Harris and the art brokers Jerre Lynn Wick and Michael Burns didn't conspire as much as he did; he claims that Burns, after all, set up the meeting with the undercover appraiser. He wonders if the FBI followed up on the Mauriellos' claims to have access to other stolen art, why possession of an artwork someone else stole--and a phony artwork, at that--seems more important than the theft itself. And why the justice system turns a blind eye to those questions while rolling mindlessly down on him like an infernal machine, without regard to his intent in the whole transaction. The answer, he thinks, is that someone has to go to jail to justify the considerable lengths that the FBI traveled to catch him.

Joaqu¬°n Alvarez, the owner of the painting, ponders the irony of Kingman's condition. "I feel sorry for the poor baseball player," he says, "and I certainly don't think that's where the investigation should go." He has even offered to fly to Phoenix from Spain to testify in Kingman's trial.

Alvarez now wants the painting back, even though it is a fake, and even though he told police nine years ago that he didn't want the matter pursued. This renewed interest on his part has fueled breathless new speculation that the painting being held as evidence in the FBI vault is real and that the viscount has been keeping a poker face all these years. Alvarez now claims that investigators X-rayed the artwork and found another painting beneath the faux Picasso, bringing whole new levels of mystery to the affair. Kingman has joked that he wouldn't mind having the painting in his own living room as a conversation piece. It could also serve as a caution against embarking on any other hare-brained schemes. "I've picked out an epitaph for my tombstone: 'The truth is overrated,'" he says. "I don't know if it's from losing 20 games or from being a professional athlete, but I don't really give a fuck, because appearances are so full of shit, anyway.

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