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Fashion Rep Busted in Dali Drawing Heist, DA Vance Says

By Aidan Gardiner | February 20, 2013 9:47am | Updated on February 20, 2013 2:12pm

UPPER EAST SIDE — Police nabbed an international press agent who brazenly lifted a Salvador Dali masterpiece from an Upper East Side art gallery last summer, bringing him to justice with the help of a pair of his fingerprints lifted off a juice cleanse bottle, they said.

Phivos Istavrioglou, 29, was indicted Tuesday for snatching Salvador Dali's 1949 painting "Cartel des Don Juan Tenorio" from Venus Over Manhattan art gallery in June 2012, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly and Manhattan's District Attorney Cy Vance Jr. announced in a joint statement.

Istavrioglou, who lives in Milan, Italy, and works as a communications official for the French clothing company Moncler, was arraigned on charges of grand larceny in the second degree.

"It was almost surreal how this theft was committed," Vance said in a statement.

Istavrioglou told authorities that he entered the gallery at 980 Madison Ave., on Tuesday June 19 and inspected the watercolor and gouache painting worth $150,000, according to court documents.

He discovered the painting was loose and he was "surprised it just came off the wall," according to court documents.

He slipped it into a black shopping bag — frame and all before walking out, police and prosecutors said.

Istavrioglou told investigators that he considered returning it to a security guard or just leaving it at the entrance, but feared he would be arrested on the spot, and instead fled, according to court documents.

Within days, Istavrioglou's face was plastered over newspapers, television stations, and news sites around the world. The NYPD was able to connect him to the crime because of a fingerprint of his they'd gotten from a BluePrint Juice bottle when he was arrested for shoplifting at a Manhattan Whole Foods earlier in 2012.

Just nine days after the painting was stolen, it was mailed anonymously to the gallery from Greece and intercepted in JFK airport.

Istavrioglou told investigators later that he was trying to return the artwork and had even created the email account "carteldesdonjuantenorio@gmail.com" to notify the gallery it was en route, documents show. He deleted the account after giving them the heads up, he said.

He said that he thought about his crime every day and repeatedly searched for updates about the painting to see if his name was connected to it, according to his statements to investigators.

An undercover officer posing as a business manager reached out to Istavrioglou on Nov. 23 and eventually lured him back to the States to curate and do public relations for a new art gallery.

Homeland Security agents took him into custody on Feb. 16 as he stepped off the plane at JFK, officials said. Document show that Istavrioglou realized what was happening once the first NYPD detective entered the holding room he was in.

"This is about the Dali, is it not?" he allegedly asked an NYPD detective.