An art collector suspected of stealing paintings valued at half-a-million dollars from several Southern California galleries was arrested Wednesday in Las Vegas, 10 years after the alleged thefts.
A tip that came through the Orange County district attorney's office in November led police to Joseph Killebrew's home, where officers found several of the missing paintings hanging on the walls, officials said.
"It wasn't that he was buying and selling these paintings," said Laguna Beach police Sgt. Jason Kravetz. "He kept them all." Kravetz said Killebrew is accused of stealing about $500,000 worth of paintings from four galleries and fleeing from his San Diego home to start a new life in Las Vegas under the name Michael Palmer.
Prosecutors said they will seek Killebrew's extradition to Orange County to face felony grand theft charges, and he will also likely be charged in Los Angeles County.
Prosecutors said Killebrew bought 14 paintings from three galleries in Laguna Beach and one in West Hollywood. He allegedly stopped payment on the personal checks he used to pay for them and fled after the galleries called to ask him about the payment.
Killebrew, 50, is also suspected of filing a false police report in April 1999, three months before obtaining the 14 paintings. In the report, he claimed that his art collection _ which featured oil paintings, crystals and sculptures _ was stolen when his San Diego home was burglarized. He got an insurance payment of $260,000 after filing the report.
Kravetz said Killebrew's collection of stolen art featured paintings by Elmer Wachtel, an American Impressionist who painted Southern California landscapes. It was not immediately clear if the art would be returned to the galleries. A message left with a Las Vegas police spokesman was not immediately returned Wednesday night.