Tag Archives: FBI

FBI: Ancient Coin Dealer Gantcho Zagorski Indicted on Federal Tax Charges

A federal grand jury indicted Gantcho Zagorski, a 59-year old U.S. dealer in ancient coins, on three counts of aiding and assisting in the filing of false income tax returns, the FBI announced Tuesday.

Hadrian-RICII-297-Eastern

Zagorski sold ancient coins online via EBay under the name Diana Coins and Paganecoins, the indictment states. Diana Coins LLC was founded in 2008 in Hackensack, N.J., public records show. Records also list Zagorski as the owner of Balkan Import Auto Sales, Inc. in Venice Florida, where he has lived. He currently resides in Chicago, authorities said. Calls to his federal public defender attorney were not returned late Thursday.

The indictment alleges:

Zagorski owned and operated a business that sold ancient coins to domestic and international customers, primarily on eBay, from his residence in Hackensack. Zagorski, along with his wife and, at times, his daughter, operated the coin-selling business under the names Diana Coins, Paganecoins, and Diana Coins LLC. For calendar years 2006, 2007, and 2008, Zagorski provided his tax preparer with false and fraudulent information by understating the amount of gross receipts and sales earned by his business. Zagorski then caused to be filed with the IRS those federal income tax returns for 2006, 2007, and 2008 containing that false and fraudulent information.

The indictment also says that Zagorski claimed gross receipts and sales of $230,000 – $314,000 between 2006 and 2008, amounts the indictment claims were “underreported.” Each of the three tax counts carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The indictment does not address the legality of the coins he was selling. Here is the complete indictment:

Artifacts and Fictions in Baltimore: Roger Atwood on the Walters’ Pre-Colombian Collection

Today we’re publishing a guest post from Roger Atwood, author of “Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers and the Looting of the Ancient World.”   We reached out to Roger for his thoughts when we heard about an exhibition of suspect pre-Colombian material at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Atwood has written extensively about looting in Latin America, and took a recent trip to the Walters to see the collection. Here is what he found.

The Walters Art Museum in Baltimore has mounted a show of ancient artifacts from Latin America that belong, or once belonged, to the collector John Bourne.  According to the show’s catalogue, Bourne has already given some of the pieces to the museum while others have been promised, a long, gradual donation that maximizes the donor’s tax deduction. Aside from a few likely fakes, whose presence the Walters candidly admits, the objects all date from before the arrival of Europeans in 1492.

Collector John Bourne, circa 1947

The collection has a long and checkered history. Bourne originally intended to give it, or at least part of it, to the Museum of New Mexico’s Palace of the Governors unit in Santa Fe, which, in fact, displayed it for several years after 1997. The collection brought the Palace of the Governors some problems, to put it mildly. Four objects in the collection were seized by the FBI in 1998 and held for nearly two years, pending probes into allegations that the pieces were looted and smuggled out of Peru. The investigation ultimately fizzled, leading to no charges and the return of the pieces. But the Museum of New Mexico got some nasty publicity from that case, and one can only assume the Walters and its lawyers were fully cognizant of the risks of a repeat of it before accepting this dubious gift. I tell the story of the Bourne case in detail in my 2004 book Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World, based on interviews and documents acquired through the Freedom of Information Act.

A couple of weeks ago I took a train to the handsome city of Baltimore and saw the Bourne collection in its new home. It’s a revealing show with some lovely artifacts, including some I don’t remember seeing in Santa Fe. The painted Nasca stirrup bottles (right), masterpieces of design and economy dating from about 500 CE, alone were worth the trip.

Yet I came away thinking that, perhaps without realizing it, the organizers have given an object lesson in the dangers of collecting antiquities that have no record of archaeological excavation. What I wrote in Stealing History – that “not a single piece on display” in the Bourne collection “gives a specific provenance, archaeological history or other sign it emerged from any place but a looter’s pit” – remains true but needs some amending.

First, there are the fakes. To its credit, the Walters is completely up front about the fact that some pieces in the Bourne collection are probably not what they claim to be. “[T]he atypical imagery of these objects calls into question their authenticity,” says the wall label next to a pair of Maya eccentric flints. It adds, helpfully, that tests are inconclusive “because modern replicas are made using the same kinds of tools and techniques as well as the same sources of flint” as the real ones. So, in this case, we’re learning more about technique for making fakes than about Maya flints.

Another sculpture looks like a bad pastiche of old and new, or, as the wall panel says, a “modern assembly of a variety of ancient parts.” Meant to look Moche, the piece shows a wooden, crouching warrior of ungainly proportions, with a clamshell perched on its head like a fez and a backflap on its lower back that seems to have been made for a much smaller object. “Together, the C-14 [radiocarbon dating] and iconographic data suggest that the piece – in its current state – postdates Moche culture by at least 700 years,” says the show’s catalogue. The operative phrase there is “at least,” for the piece has a funny, cinematic kind of look, like a prop from “The Curse of the Andes”.

What do fakes have to do with the problem of looting? Fakes and unprovenanced, authentic antiquities often turn up together in collections because neither was found through the transparent process of archaeological excavation. They flock together.  Collectors might think their connoisseurship protects them from fakes, but they get hoodwinked all the time. This is not a sign of denseness or gullibility, necessarily; it just comes with the territory if you’re in the business of acquiring undocumented antiquities. If the Getty, with all its experts and budget, could buy a dubious piece like the Kouros, then what hope is there for a single collector such as John Bourne, no matter what the credentials of the people advising him?

The Walters is more coy on the implications of all this. Has the collector gained a tax benefit for the donation of what are quite possibly, if the Walters’ analysis is correct, worthless fakes?  Why is it even showing them? The show constantly refers to authentication and laboratory analysis on the pieces; indeed, it’s one of the main themes of the exhibit.  One piece, a Zapotec pottery figure actually has a copy of its thermoluminescence analysis report right on the wall, indicating the piece dates from 450 to 800 CE. Wall texts and the catalogue go on about CT scans and minute studies of chemical compositions.

I spoke on the phone with the director of the Walters, Gary Vikan, who said that the museum decided to go ahead and show what its conservators believed to be fakes because “there is a value in being candid and open about our own research.” He added, “our business is to gather and share knowledge, not to vindicate” a collector’s decisions. Two conservators worked full-time for two-and-a-half years analyzing the pieces, he said.

To the viewer, all this research could signal that the Walters has doubts about the larger integrity of the collection. But it also suggests the museum is trying to compensate for the lack of any archaeological information about the pieces by running them through gauntlets of laboratory tests. It’s as if the museum is trying to scratch its way to some information – any information – about pieces that are so patently lacking any hard archaeological data.

And that leads me to the second problem associated with undocumented artifacts that this exhibit so richly demonstrates: the lack of information. For all the museum’s months of laboratory work, we know strikingly little about where these pieces came from, in what context they were found, and what function or meaning they had. This is because they were, presumably, all purchased from the cast of looters, dealers and assorted hoodlums that make up the supply end of the Latin American antiquities market. Whatever information those sellers claim to have on the origin of the artifacts they sell is usually conjecture or lies.

An earthenware crocodile effigy claimed to be from Costa  Rica is said to date from 500 to 1350 CE, an absurdly wide spread that stratigraphic data or radiocarbon materials found in proper excavation could narrow down to decades. A Mayan jadeite pendant (left) dates from “250 to 450 CE” and could come from Guatemala, Belize, Mexico or Honduras, says the catalogue. In other words, from two centuries and any one of hundreds of sites over four countries.   It’s a nice piece, but how helpful is that? True, it is difficult for a private collector to buy archaeologically excavated material, since it rarely comes on the market. But a museum of the Walters’ caliber could certainly arrange loans of properly excavated pieces if wants to show pre-Columbian antiquities.

The show takes pains to stress that Bourne purchased many artifacts on trips to Latin American hinterlands starting in the 1940s, before most current rules on removing and selling cultural property were in effect. The catalogue describes Hiram Bingham-style adventures, Bourne cutting through forest to reach the lost city of Bonampak and finding artifacts in situ.  These accounts are entertaining and I don’t doubt their authenticity, but other facts make you wonder if he had other sources. Bourne himself told the FBI in 1998 that he bought merchandise from the late Ben Johnson, a notorious Los Angeles dealer in high-end pillage whose dealings were exposed in the Sipán trial of 1989.

What little information we’re given on the origin of the Bourne pieces amounts to a roll call of the most pitilessly looted parts of Latin America: the north coast of Peru, the Petén lowlands of Guatemala, rural Veracruz.  Commercial looters erased incalculable amounts of archaeological data and a valuable economic resource to gather prizes for middlemen and collectors. It’s a story of exploitation and greed that is still rarely acknowledged  by big collecting museums.

A clear example of that destructive cycle – collectors buy loot, looters destroy sites to get more loot to sell, over and over – was the pillage at Sipán in northern Peru in 1987. Before the Getty’s Aphrodite, before the Marion True trial, the case of Sipán showed everyone the power of the antiquities trade to consume heritage.  That case led to the 1990 emergency ban on the import of a long list of types of Peruvian antiquities, arguably the most important step by the federal government to tackle the illicit trade up to that time, and, later, a bilateral agreement between Peru and the United States imposing broad import restrictions that remains in effect today. (By way of disclosure, I should say that I spoke in favor of a five-year renewal of that agreement before the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee in 2007.)

The Bourne collection (now the Walters collection) includes a piece widely attributed to Sipán, a golden belt rattle (left) [Note: An earlier version of this post had an incorrect image. The mistake was ours, not Atwood’s.]  It wasn’t on display when I visited Baltimore but it appears in the catalogue, which calls the piece “Moche style, North Coast, Peru.” The Sipán tomb was looted by the Bernal brothers in February 1987. Its fabulous artifacts spread quickly through the elite antiquities racket before police fenced off the site and allowed archaeologists to excavate it. They found two more, undisturbed tombs that have enriched our understanding of pre-Columbian society.

The word “style” after Moche is a wink-wink that the Walters is not sure of the piece’s authenticity, as Vikan pointed out to me.  I spoke with one of the museum’s conservators, Jessica Arista, who said the surface of the belt rattle showed marks from metal tools that did not exist in ancient Peru. “There are a lot of modern polishing marks,” she said. Also, said Arista, the metal itself looked too fresh to be ancient and a corrosive pigment seems to have been applied to it, possibly with the intention of making it look older.  A sample from the piece was detached and sent to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston for analysis, she said. The piece was found to be 72 percent gold, 13 percent silver and 10 percent copper, figures similar to those found in authentic pieces, she said. (The catalogue gave slightly different numbers: 86.6 percent gold, five percent silver and 8.4 percent copper.) But the interior of the metal lacked the leaching and compositional variation that you would expect from a truly ancient piece, she said. Also, the microscopically thin gilding that you would see on the surface seems to be missing.

Still, the information is not conclusive, said Arista. The museum would need detailed comparisons with authentic Sipán pieces to give a more definitive answer on the piece’s authenticity. The Walters has not made contact with the Sipán museum in Lambayeque, Peru to arrange such a comparison, she said.

I mentioned to her that many Sipán pieces, including the backflap seized by the FBI in Philadelphia in 1997, had been soaked and scrubbed with Brillo pads while in the hands of looters and smugglers. This, I suggested, could account for the modern tool marks and the metal’s shiny appearance (which I’d also noticed in Santa Fe.) Perhaps, she said, but the metal’s inner composition, not just the surface, raises red flags about the piece’s authenticity.

The belt rattle was one of four from the Bourne collection seized by the FBI in 1998. (Another, a golden monkey head looted from a nearby site called La Mina around 1988, was restituted to Peru last year, with the cooperation of the Palace of the Governors. A pair of Moche earflares, seen at right, also seized by the FBI remain on display at the Walters. ) While the artifacts were held by the FBI, the Peruvian archaeologist who excavated Sipán, Walter Alva, went to Santa Fe and examined the belt ornament. If he had any doubts about its authenticity, he never raised them with me or the FBI.  Alva doubted the authenticity of other Peruvian pieces in the Bourne group, but not that one.  In Stealing History, I quote Christopher Donnan of UCLA, an expert on Moche iconography, as saying he also believed it an ancient Sipán artifact. I’ve never heard an authority on Moche archaeology say anything different.

So if the Sipán belt rattle turns out to be a fake – well, there are some very good forgers out there, and kudos to the Walters’ conservation team for exposing it.

But if it’s not, then the Walters will have some explaining to do. Its presence at the Walters would make a mockery of the museum’s policy (stated by Vikan here at minute 18) of not acquiring pieces that do not have a clear chain of ownership from before the UNESCO agreement of 1970.  Vikan says in the catalogue that the museum will “promptly and openly respond to any claims for repatriation … from possible source countries.”  Indeed, in a sign of transparency, the Walters has posted the collection – including the now-suspect Sipán belt rattle – on the American Association of Museum Directors’ Object Registry of antiquities acquired since 2008 that lack clear provenance dating back to 1970.

But why wait until source countries make repatriation claims? You wonder what other controversies over title might lurk behind the Bourne collection. This would be a good opportunity for a major American museum to recognize proactively a source country’s title to dubious objects, rather than make Peru or Guatemala jump through hoops — or wait for the storm as the Met did with the Euphronios krater, today recognized as property of the government of Italy.  Museums badly need to get the provenance problem past them and institute policies they can live by, permanently and consistently.  At its heart, the question is about more than ownership.  It’s about accountability, a subject on which the Walters exhibit demonstrates how far museums have come. It also shows how far they have to go.

ROGER ATWOOD investigated the illicit antiquities trade in 2002-03 with a fellowship from the Alicia Patterson Foundation. His website is http://rogeratwood.com/

New Wave of Returns: Hundreds of Looted Antiquities Recovered from the Met, Princeton and Others

On Jan 20, the Italian art squad announced the return of more than 200 antiquities from US museums, companies, collectors and dealers — all the product of illegal excavation or theft.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art returned forty pieces belonging to a deceased private collector who has been identified as the museum’s former antiquities curator Dietrich von Bothmer. Von Bothmer was known to have a large private collection of vase fragments and was fond of reuniting these fragments with vases in known collections. Fabio Isman reports that several of the returned fragments match vases already returned by American museums, including the Getty’s Onesimos kylix, which was potted by the famous Euphronios.

Question: What of the rest of the von Bothmer collection and his considerable personal archive, which no doubt contains a fascinating history of the illicit antiquities trade over the past 50 years? Is it, as this return suggests, in the possession of the Met, and will its contents be made public?

Princeton University Art Museum returned 170 objects and fragments, including: an askos-shaped talus; two statues of women, including one playing a tambourine and the other a lyre; a white pithos with red figures representing animals;  and 166 fragments from vases and architectural elements. The returns appear to be related to the investigation of Edoardo Almagià, the Princeton alum and antiquities dealer who, along with Princeton antiquities curator Michael Padgett, are targets of an investigation by Italian authorities.

The release states [via Google translation] that the objects “were identified in previous surveys conducted by the [Carabinieri] of the possessions of an Italian-American citizen, resident of New York, who has been the subject of the seizure of numerous archaeological finds, in New York and Rome, and copious documentation with photographic material pertaining to sales and loans made ​​by him.” These seized documents have allowed investigators to trace looted antiquities to prestigious American museums like the Met and Princeton, the release says, adding that the Carabinieri “have thus established, irrefutably, the origin of the objects from illicit excavations made ​​in Italy.” Works from Almagia have also been traced to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Dallas Museum of Art; the San Antonio Museum of Art; the Toledo Museum of Art; the Tampa Museum of Art; the Indiana University Art Museum, The New York Times has reported.

Question: It appears we can now add the Almagia Archive to the trove of documents, photographs and objects that Italian investigators have seized from antiquities dealers Robin Symes, Robert Hecht, Gianfranco Becchina and Giacomo Medici. Given that only Medici has been convicted in Italian court, will these archives, which provide an unprecedented record of the illicit trade, ever be released publicly by Italian authorities?

Princeton and the Met have not yet acknowledged the returns. We’ll post details when they do. In response to a previous request for information, Princeton Museum spokeswoman Cass Cliatt took pains to distance the museum from the Padgett/Almagia case: “The[re] were not and have not ever been any allegations against the University related to the current investigation, and the Italian authorities at no point contacted the University about the current investigation. Great care should be taken about implying a connection.” It is not clear how a criminal investigation into the museum’s curator and a major donor (and alum) have nothing to do with the museum, and these returns only raise further questions. We’ve asked Cliatt for more information and will post it here when it comes.

Other returns announced in the release:

Humana, a Fortune 100 health insurance provider, returned two statues that had graced the lobby of its Louisville headquarters. The first, a second century sculpture depicting the goddess Fortuna, was stolen in October 1986 from an opera house in Rome. The second, a first century marble statue, was illegally excavated in Lazio, Italy and has been linked to the convicted antiquities trafficker Giacomo Medici. The release says Humana acquired the statues in 1984 from a New York Gallery and cooperated fully with Italian investigators.

A New York antiquities dealer has returned a bronze statue known as the Venus of St. John Perareto, which was stolen from a museum in Rimini in 1962. UPDATE: Jerome Eisenberg of Royal-Athena Gallery in New York confirms that he is the dealer. In an email, he said he bought the small Venus from an unnamed dealer in Freiburg, Germany in 1982 and was offering it for $22,500.

An ancient parchment stolen from Bari was identified and returned with the help of FBI officials in Chicago. And bronze grave goods from the first century were returned “a genuine gesture of respect for the Italian people” by contemporary artist Edward Giobbi, who had inherited them from his father.

Hat-Tip: David Gill at Looting Matters first brought the returns to our attention.

ALSO: Fabio Isman has a story on the returns in Il Messagero.

Jiri Frel: Scholar, Refugee, Curator…Spy?

In the early 1980s, the antiquities department at the J. Paul Getty Museum was a hotbed of whispered political intrigue.

Rumors swirled that the department’s Czech curator, Jiri Frel, was a Communist spy. And many believed the deputy curator, former State Department official Arthur Houghton, was a CIA plant tasked with keeping an eye on Frel’s activities.

Frel’s once-classified FBI file, obtained by the authors under the Freedom of Information Act, reveals that the US Government asked similar questions about Frel in 1971, when an investigation was conducted into his “possible intelligence connections.”

As part of our Hot Documents series, we’ve posted the entire FBI file here.

Frel was born in Czechoslovakia 1923 as Jiri Frohlich to a Czech father and Austrian mother, the FBI records show. (The family changed the surname to Frel in 1940s, possibly to hide Jewish roots.) Frel entered the United States in 1969 as a visiting scholar at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Studies. The Institute had long been an intellectual home base for leading scholars, including Albert Einstein.

After a year at the Institute, Frel was granted political asylum with the help of lawyers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he had begun working as an research associate in the Greek and Roman Department under Dietrich von Bothmer. Interestingly, Frel cites additional assistance from George Kennan, the former US Ambassador to the Soviet Union and a leading historian at the IAS.

During an interview with FBI agents in September 1971, Frel was “extremely cooperative,” the records show. Frel denied ever being a spy but he admitted to providing Communist government officials with the names, background information and psychological assessments of those he met on his scholarly travels throughout Europe during the Cold War. “He stated that while he was never aware of this information being used for intelligence purposes, he often suspected that the Chechoslovak [sic] Intelligence Service reviewed copies of this form,” the report notes.

The FBI seemed particularly interested in Frel’s ties to his mentor at Charles University, a woman whose name is redacted in the FBI file. We shared the FBI file with an expert on academic life under Communist Prague, UC Berkeley Associate Professor John Connelly, who was able to identify the woman as Ruzena Vackova,  a professor of classical architecture in Prague who was condemned to 22 yrs. prison in 1952.

According to Connelly, Vackova was one of the few in academia to speak openly against the Communist regime and was the only professor in Prague to march with student protesters. In Connelly’s book “Captive University,” he describes Vackova telling a group in March 1948, “…if a criteria for dismissing these students was participation in these demonstrations, then I would like to share their fate.” (p.194) Vackova spent 16 years in prison and her dissent continued after her release, Connelly told us in an email.

“She was an extraordinary, outstanding person,” he said.

The FBI had picked up on whispers that Frel may have been a Communist agent who turned Vackova in to the authorities. “Since he was one of her protégés at Charles University in Prague, a rumor began to spread of which he was aware, that he had somehow cooperated with the Communist government in her demise,” the report notes.

Frel denied the claim and railed against the Soviet overlords in his Czech homeland, saying he “vehemently disagrees with the Communist regime.” Yet the curator also volunteered (we imagine somewhat sheepishly, but the bland FBI prose doesn’t say) how he cultivated the regime’s approval by once applying for the Communist party. Frel said he applied “to keep his position at the university,” and was rejected because of his incompatible political views.

Connelly believes that it is unlikely that Frel had any role in Vackova’s arrest. “He was probably a conformist (like the overwhelming majority) who tried to anticipate the will of the regime,” Connelly wrote to us. Few who knew him at the Getty would think of Frel as a conformist, but during his years there he certainly showed a flare for telling those in power what they wanted to hear while doing what he damn well pleased.

Espionage allegations aside, the Frel file is a fascinating study of a complicated personality. It hints at Frel’s famously chaotic love life. More importantly, it demonstrates how adept the charismatic polymath, connoisseur and political shape-shifter was at manipulating situations and spinning answers for his own survival. Colleagues at the Getty knew Frel as an Old World snob who constantly complained about America, its broken education system, its obsession with pop culture, its hot dogs and unpalatable mustard. Indeed, years later, when he was caught conducting a massive tax fraud scheme and falsifying provenance for million-dollar fakes at the Getty, Frel left America and never looked back. Yet during his 1971 FBI interview, the reporting agent noted how Frel gushed that “he considers the United States to be in his words ‘a great and good country.”

The story told by the documents is not complete: 10 pages were redacted, citing exemptions for national security and privacy. But it’s clear the FBI closed its case in 1971, concluding Frel had no ties to foreign intelligence services. Frel died in Paris on April 29, 2006.

As for Houghton and his ties to the CIA, the rumors were not far off. Before coming to the Getty in 1982, he had spent a decade working for the State Department, including time in its bureau of intelligence and research as a Mid East analyst. Houghton was fond of cultivating his image as a man of mystery. In truth, he had burned out on the diplomatic bureaucracy and chose a career that brought him closer to his long time passion — ancient coins. Houghton remains active in the field to this day.

The Secret FBI File: J. Edgar Hoover vs. J. Paul Getty

Was J. Paul Getty a Nazi collaborator?

That is the provocative question that J. Edgar Hoover asked in 1940, when the FBI opened a secret investigation into J. Paul Getty’s possible ties to the Nazi regime.

While reporting Chasing Aphrodite, we obtained Getty’s FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act. It contains a fascinating account of the FBI’s ultimately inconclusive espionage investigation into Getty, who some in the government feared was “extremely dangerous to the safety of this country.”

We’ve posted and annotated* the complete FBI file in four parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4. We’ve also posted a declassified file from the Department of State here.

Here are highlights from Hoover’s investigation in J. Paul Getty, at the time one of the world’s richest men:

Aug 1940: The FBI takes notice when sources report that J. Paul Getty (“Geddy”) buys the run-down Hotel Pierre on 5th Avenue in New York City, fires the staff and replaces them with “employees of the Italian consulate.” Months earlier, Italy had joined forces with Nazi Germany. An inquiry is opened.

Aug 29, 1940: J. Edgar Hoover orders the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office to launch “a complete and thorough investigation” of Getty, noting his employees’ “Italian consular connections.” Hoover writes: “Getty may, because of his oil interests and German descent, be engaged in activity inimical to our Government.”

Nov 1940: After a preliminary investigation, the FBI opens a formal case file on Getty, listing the focus of the investigation as “Espionage.”

Nov 11, 1940: The investigation finds Getty has been married four times, and was accused of “immorality” and adultery by his wives.

Dec 1940: FBI file cites a New York Daily News article describing Getty as a “personal friend” of Hitler who has supplied oil to Russia.

December 1940: Getty’s attorneys write to US Embassy in London, denying claims made in Daily News article. Getty “never met and does not know Hitler, and is not and has never been friendly or sympathetic to him.”

Jan 1941: J. Edgar Hoover writes to the Attorney General, summarizing the investigation into possible espionage by J. Paul Getty.

Jan 1941: The FBI learns that in Nov 1939 Getty was in Berlin negotiating the sale of 1 million barrels of California oil to Soviet Russian buyers.

Nov 1941: FBI report from New York office summarizes investigation, concluding, “Investigation has failed to disclose information to substantiate allegations that the employees and those who frequent the hotel have Italian Consular connections.”

Jan 1942: Assistant Attorney General Wendell Berge writes to Hoover saying there is insufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution against Getty, but asks the FBI to continue its investigation.

April 1942: Assistant Attorney General Wendell Berge instructs Hoover to continue investigation of Getty, noting “If these allegations, or some of them, are true the subject is a person extremely dangerous to the safety of this country.”

April 1942: In a heavily redacted report, a confidential source tells FBI investigators that Getty advised Nazi army “a way to break through the Maginot line,” France’s protective barrier with Germany. Source tells FBI investigator that Getty was interested in Hitler “merely because of the efficiency with which HITLER and other German officials conducted their system of government…” Getty is “amenable towards the way those in power crush the weak.” Source tells FBI investigators that Getty turned down offers of oil and art from Russian and German officials in exchange for his help drilling oil wells.

Aug 29, 1942: Getty was interviewed by the FBI and denied any ties to Hitler’s government.

Oct 1942: FBI summarizes investigation of Getty, concludes facts “do not reflect that he is engaged in espionage activities.” Case transferred to unnamed division of FBI.

July 1943: Attorney General Francis Biddle concludes the FBI’s use of “danger classifications” for individuals was a mistake and should be stopped. He orders a memo placed into Getty’s file and others classified as dangerous, noting that such designations were unreliable.

Sept 1961: In 1961, the Kennedy White House opened a confidential “name check” inquiry into Getty. The report notes the FBI’s investigation of Getty and the oil tycoon’s promiscuous relations. It also mentions that in the 1940s Getty was involved in a paternity dispute with a woman who claimed the true father of the child was Getty’s friend Charlie Chaplin. The White House deemed the information in the file not relevant to the the inquiry, whose focus is not revealed.

Aug 1963: Kennedy is said to have accused Getty of avoiding income tax payments and using his money to subsidize “extreme right-wing propaganda.”

March 1973: Nixon Dept Assistant Alexander Butterfield requests inquiry into J. Paul Getty.

In hindsight, the FBI’s two-year investigation of Getty found nothing concrete, and appears more guided by innuendo and rumor than hard fact. With the FBI’s current focus on penetrating domestic terror networks, it is noteworthy that soon after the investigation concluded, Attorney General Francis Biddle advised the FBI halt its use of “danger classifications” like the one applied to Getty.

“This classification system is inherently unreliable,” Biddle concluded. “The notion that a valid determination can be made of how dangerous a person is…is impractical, unwise and dangerous.”

To this day, rumors persist about Getty’s ties to Hitler and Mussolini.

*Thanks to our friends at DocumentCloud for hosting the Getty FBI files.