DOCUMENT: Celebrity, Crime

FBI Rescued Madonna's Marital Memento

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FBI Rescued Madonna's Marital Memento

The next time you're in Madonna's house, ask her about that distinctive painting on the kitchen wall. It's a rare collaborative piece by the late artists Andy Warhol and Keith Haring and was given to Madonna as a wedding gift when she married Sean Penn in August 1985 (the painting features a silk screen of a New York Post front page adorned with Haring's trademark baby figures). But three years later, the artwork was stolen from Madonna's California home, triggering an extensive FBI probe, an investigation detailed here for the first time, thanks to bureau records obtained by The Smoking Gun. The stolen property case,which started in Los Angeles and subsequently involved five other FBI offices, was opened in mid-1988, with agents interviewing Haring and representatives of the Warhol estate. But it wasn't until early-1990 that the FBI located the paintingó-thanks to a stroke of luck. In February 1990, a Rhode Island art dealer brought the painting to New York to have it authenticated by the Warhol estate (the dealer planned to buy it for $40,000 and wanted to confirm that the piece was a noriginal). But a sharp-eyed Warhol employee, who had first been contacted by the FBI in 1988, immediately called the bureau and told agents that--amazingly--the artwork had just been left with the estate for authentication. Agents quickly seized the painting, which was eventually returned to Madonna (the artwork was valued at $400,000 in late-1990). Nobody ever got prosecuted for the theft, but FBI agentst hought that the man who tried to sell the painting to the Rhode Island dealer was "a likely suspect." Memos indicate that the unnamed guy admitted to a prior drug problem and claimed to have originally purchased the Warhol-Haring painting for $15,000 and a 1932 Ford. Thanks to FBI censors, the suspect's name--not to mention those of Madonna, Penn, and the Warhol employee--have been blacked out from these documents. But a clear account of the art caper still emerges:

Page 1: Madonna's expensive kitchen fixture.

Pages 2-3: FBI interview with Keith Haring.

Page 4: Warhol employee blows the whistle.

Page 5: The "likely suspect."

Pages 6-8: $15,000 and a 1932 Ford? Sold!

Pages 9-10: "Stolen from her residence in California."