Longform

BRIAN KINGMAN'S BLUE PERIOD

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(Jerre Lynn Wick refused to talk at any length to New Times, but she did confirm that Kingman never brought up any expectations of personal profit from the Mauriellos' transaction. Nor did he think he was doing anything illegal. Wick's more talkative new husband, however, apparently worried that his wife might be implicated in wrongdoing, most impressively charged a New Times reporter and bumped chests in a threatening manner while gesticulating wildly and screaming, "I'm an attorney.")

When he learned the painting might be stolen, Wick's associate, Michael Burns, called around to insurance companies to see if there was a reward for its return. If an insurance policy had reimbursed the painting's owner after the theft, he figured, then the painting would belong to the company. Wick's and Burns' firm could then sell the painting for the insurance company and receive a commission.

"The insurance companies usually pay a finder's fee," says Burns, "and if it was going to be resold, we wanted to be in on it. We called the insurance companies, and the next thing the FBI was involved."
Alvarez had hung the fake on the wall because he had no insurance, but there was no way for Burns to know that. So he didn't know to be suspicious when a man identifying himself as "Mr. Walker from an insurance company" returned his call. It was probably FBI special agent Reno Walker. Walker was going to put Kingman in touch with an art expert named Thomas Bishop, who was actually FBI special agent Thomas McShane. They made arrangements to meet on a Wednesday.

"[The art expert] was going to fly in on his way from New York to L.A.," Kingman recalls, "meet us at the airport, decide if it was real, and then go on."
Kingman called the Mauriellos and they flew in from Las Vegas. Kingman picked them up at the airport and drove them to his house while they waited to hear from "Bishop," the FBI expert. Stephen Mauriello, the younger of the two, was a handsome, dark-haired fellow with a New Yorky manner and a flashy wardrobe. He also seemed to have Tourette's Syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by involuntary tics and grunts. "Every now and then he'd let out a nervous sound like a little dog barking," says Kingman.

The older man, Alfred, who asked to be called Roy, was grandfatherly and distinguished in a dark suit.

"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!"

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Michael Kiefer