MILWAUKEE – Prosecutors say it was the suspect’s dream theft: to simply snatch an expensive Stradivarius violin from an unsuspecting musician.
Never mind that Salah Salahadyn, 41, had already tried and failed at art theft. The Milwaukee man pleaded guilty in 2000 to trying to resell a $25,000 statue to the art gallery owner from whom it had been stolen in 1995, and his ex-girlfriend told investigators that while he hadn’t stolen it himself, he did plot the theft.
Salahadyn was sentenced to five years in prison for that crime. Now he could face up to 15 years in prison for a separate theft, after he and another suspect were charged Friday in connection with the January heist of a 300-year-old Stradivarius violin valued at $5 million.
A confidential source told police that Salahadyn talked about stealing high-end art, the criminal complaint said.
Salahadyn explained that his dream theft was a Stradivarius violin because of its potential value and the fact that it could be snatched from the hands of a musician as they walk down the street, the complaint quoted the source as saying.
Salahadyn and a second man, Universal Knowledge Allah, 36, appeared in Milwaukee County court Friday on charges of being a party to robbery. Allah is also charged with possessing marijuana.
Many Stradivarius violins, crafted by renowned Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari, are owned by private collectors who lend them to top violinists to be played in symphonies. Experts say a Stradivarius violin remains in good condition when played regularly.
Experts estimate that 600 to 650 Stradivarius instruments remain – about half of what the master produced – and they can be worth millions of dollars apiece.
Symphonies that feature a Stradivarius often play up the fact in brochures, advertisements and local media. For example, Frank Almond, a concertmaster at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, gave newspaper and magazine interviews about the Stradivarius, built in 1715, that had been lent to him by a private owner, and he’s discussed the instrument in podcasts.
Almond had just completed a performance Jan. 27 and was putting the violin in his vehicle when a man shocked him with a stun gun, Almond told investigators. Almond fell to the ground, and by the time he recovered, the thief’s van had sped away.
Police found the stolen violin late Wednesday night in a suitcase in the attic of a Milwaukee home of one of Salahadyn’s acquaintances. Police said the homeowner didn’t know what was in the suitcase.
Kerry Keane, an international consultant for musical instruments from Christie’s, said his clients who own the violins are rethinking what to do with them. Many bought the violins with the intent of lending them to top virtuosos, he said, but as the violins increase in value, so does the risk.
One client is considering buying a lesser grade of violin he can lend out, Keane said. That’s my greatest fear – that this will add hesitance to the philanthropists who buy them so they can be played in public.