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But these clues never amounted to anything more than tantalizing glimpses of a movielike scenario, in which a hapless burglar gets his just deserts and a worthless painting gets passed from stooge to stooge like a bad check. Then the Picasso landed in the hands of Alfred and Stephen Mauriello.

In 1989, at about the same time Nancy Carter was visiting with the state police, a New York attorney named Marc Isaacs contacted Alvarez's attorney, claiming he had a client willing to return the purloined Picasso for a price.

"An individual came to me who informed me that he had in his possession what he believed to be 'La Mujer,'" Isaacs told New Times. "He had received it from someone who apparently had received it from someone else as a gift. The person who gave it to him was very ill and about to pass away."
Although Isaacs would not identify his client, the story of receiving it from a man who is now dead resembles the story that Alfred Mauriello told the FBI when he and Brian Kingman were caught with the painting in 1992 in Phoenix.

Whether Isaacs represented Mauriello or not, Alvarez refused to pay.
In 1991, "La Mujer" resurfaced once more, again in the possession of two men matching the descriptions of Alfred and Stephen Mauriello. According to the FBI report, "In August 1991, an elder man and a younger man who appeared to be on narcotics, calling themselves Allen and Stephen, came to [a Nevada art dealer] with an oil painting rolled up in a cardboard tube. They spoke like they came from Brooklyn, New York."

They wanted to have the painting appraised, and when the art dealer snapped a Polaroid of it, the two men hid their faces, left and never came back.

A year later, the real estate agent, Nancy Carter, got a phone call from a young woman who identified herself as a "party girl" in upstate New York. She had been "entertaining" some men she thought to be dangerous mobsters, and when the men were drunk and high on drugs, they showed her a painting they claimed was a Picasso. She offered to steal the artwork back from the mobsters and return it to Alvarez for $500,000, which he again refused, even when she lowered her price to $50,000. Carter suggested she call the police instead.

"It wasn't long after that they recovered it," Carter says. The Picasso turned up in Brian Kingman's car at Scottsdale Municipal Airport. There were reasons for it to be there, even if they were dumb reasons. The Mauriellos were looking for someone to tell them they had an original Picasso. They just needed to find experts who were more ignorant about art than they were.

Brian Kingman had a friend from the check-cashing business named Ron Phares who moved to Vegas and changed his name to Sonny Harris. Harris/Phares was visiting with Kingman in Phoenix in late 1991, and they went to visit another friend of Kingman's, an art broker named Jerre Lynn Wick.

Wick is a partner in a business listed in the phone book as Brown, Burns & Wick, Fine Art, Inc. She has been described by one local art gallery owner as a "dabbler," someone who appreciates fine art and has connections among like-minded members of the Phoenix gentry. Her former husband was mayor of Paradise Valley. At the time of Harris' visit, Wick had at her home a black-and-white Picasso painting that she was selling on consignment. Kingman was mesmerized that something so small and so ugly could be worth so much money.

"The joke was, my wife said if I bought that at a yard sale and told her I paid a hundred bucks, she'd be pissed off at me," Kingman remembers.

A year later, Harris called Kingman to say that a friend of his son knew two guys who thought they had a Picasso painting. Could Kingman put them in touch with Jerre Lynn Wick?

Kingman called Wick, who conferred with her business associates and then told Kingman to get a photograph and measurements of the painting and they would proceed from there.

The Mauriellos complied--and also sent along the New York Times article hinting that the painting could be stolen. They assured Kingman that they had nothing to do with the theft and that the statute of limitations had run out on the painting's possession.

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Michael Kiefer