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Charges dismissed against ex-Getty curator Marion True by Italian judge [updated]

October 13, 2010 |  9:47 am

True The groundbreaking criminal trial of former Getty Museum antiquities curator Marion True ended in a bureaucratic whimper Wednesday in Rome when the judged ended the proceedings, ruling that the statute of limitations had expired on the criminal charges that she had conspired to traffic in looted art.

True was charged by an Italian prosecutor in 2005, marking the first time an American museum official had been criminally charged by a foreign government.

True's attorney, Francesco Isolabella, said in an interview after the ruling that his client was innocent.

True's co-defendant Giacomo Medici was convicted on related charges and his conviction was twice upheld on appeal. Robert Hecht, another co-defendant, remains on trial as the alleged head of the conspiracy, but the statute of limitations on his charges will expire in July.

The developments mark an end to a legal saga that has had a profound affect on American museums. True, while a curator at the Getty, aggressively sought out antiquities for the museum, including the renowned statue of Aphrodite, that turned out have dubious origins.

It began in 1995 when authorities raided Medici's warehouse and found Polaroid photographs of hundreds of recently looted antiquities. Those objects were traced to museums across the United States, Europe and Asia.

True had dealings with Medici and his business partner, Robert Hecht. The acquisition of the private collection of Lawrence and Barbara Fleischman in 1996 of more than 300 antiquities marked the peak of the Getty's collecting period, and would later form the core of the Italian prosecutor's charges.

Her indictment in 2005 came amid a sweeping Italian investigation into looted antiquities that had been traced to a half-dozen American museums as well as museums in Europe and Asia. Over the five years that her trial spanned, American museums, one by one, forged agreements with Italian authorities, returning more than 100 looted antiquities in exchange for loans and cultural cooperation with the Italian government.

The Getty has since adopted one of the strictest acquisition policies in the country, refusing to purchase antiquities that did not have a clear ownership history. The association of U.S. art museum directors adopted a similar policy not long after, marking a dramatic change in the collecting practice in America's leading museums.

 Prosecutor Pallo Ferri alleged that the conspiracy between Hecht, Medici and True continued until April 2002, the date of a letter between True and Hecht. Under that analysis, the crime expired in July.

The judge said that this marks an end for Marion True in this trial.

She has since become an outspoken critic of the way museums used to acquire antiquities. In her one interview with the press, True told a reporter for the New Yorker that she was innocent and argued that she had done more to further the Italian cause than any other curator in America.

--Jason Felch

[updated at 2:51 pm: This story has been edited to clarify the statute of limitations for the charges True faced.]

Photo: Marion True leaves a court in Rome in 2005. Credit: Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters

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