September 24, 2008 / 8:43 PM / 10 years ago

Frenchman sentenced in Florida for fine art theft

MIAMI (Reuters) - A U.S. court sentenced a Frenchman on Wednesday to more than five years in prison for conspiring to transport stolen works of art, including a painting by French impressionist Claude Monet.

Bernard Jean Ternus, pleaded guilty in July and admitted he and his co-conspirators tried to broker the sale of four paintings, stolen last year by armed and masked robbers from the Musee des Beaux-Arts in Nice, to undercover agents from the FBI and French national police.

The paintings were Monet’s “Cliffs Near Dieppe;” “The Lane of Poplars at Moret” by English impressionist Alfred Sisley; and “Allegory of Water” and “Allegory of Earth” by Flemish artist Jan Brueghel the Elder.

U.S. District Judge Patricia Seitz sentenced Ternus, a French citizen who lived in the Fort Lauderdale suburb of Cooper City, to 62 months in prison, the Miami U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Prosecutors said Ternus met several times with the undercover agents in Florida and Spain and negotiated to sell all four paintings for 3 million euros, about $4.4 million.

Ten people involved in the theft were arrested during a sting operation in June in southern France and police recovered all four paintings from a van in Marseilles.

Ternus also pleaded guilty to committing visa fraud by falsely stating he had no criminal history. In fact he had been arrested several times in France and convicted on charges of assault with a deadly weapon.

Reporting by Jim Loney, editing by Jane Sutton and Todd Eastham

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