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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

Comments () | Archives (13)

What a bloody farce this was.

I found the editing of this piece to be far below LAT standards. The lead is TERRIBLE. "Affect" is a verb, not a noun ("profound effect"). Some statements are confusing ("...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;" isn't this contradictory?) while others employ an unwise choice of terms ("forged" is probably not the best choice when one is discussing a hasty move to cover one's behind) or lack authoritative terms (a "clear ownership history" is an "impeccable provenance"). The second to last paragraph is especially choppy and needs to be reorganized.
Tell me: are you hiring?

Yet another Getty employee gets away with it. Gosh I"m shocked. May Marion can start teaching ethics with Barry Munitz at UCLA or soemthing.

This is off-topic, but I wanted to thank DMF for the comment. As a non-native speaker, I appreciated the detail and wouldn't have noticed otherwise.

The Los Angeles Times is a shadow of the formerly glorious newspaper. Thank you, Tribune.

At least she wasn't caught up by the limitations of statues. True that...

(and kudos to DMF for their rational and orderly thought in copy editing)

I can hardly read some of the articles in the LAT lately. So many articles are poorly written and have ambiguous titles. The content is incomplete and this [Edit] thing is annoying! The people who write the Breaking News feed on FB is doing a horrible job. Sorry to say, I really don't like linking/sharing/emailing many LAT articles anymore. The photos are still usually terrific though! Well, unless they use someone's cell phone pic via Twitter.

Come on LAT! Make us proud again!

thanks for pointing it out DMF!

This case really got my goat. Italy is home to so much art looted that they have no intention of returning that they have no moral expecation of expecting anyone to retun art to them. If I were president, I would have really demanded that Italy not only drop this case, but appologize and return some of the art they have stolen.

@Doris: Way to go! First, demonstrate that you are an insufferable, nitpicking pedant, then ask for a job! Man, who wouldn't want to share an office with you?

Marion True was a scapegoat, giving the Italian government a convenient target over practices that had been going on for decades. At least the antiquities market is under better control now. The Getty has sent back dozens of objects, yet the Elgen Marbles are still in London, and I don't see the British Museum even remotely considering the idea of repatriation to Greece. So Marion True, the Getty and the California public pay the price in reputation and loss of objects, while the older institutions get to hang onto looted objects.

Italian justice slouches downward.

The bigger the crime, the smaller the punishment.

Not much difference between legal systems around the world.

@Sean: Why when people correct other's mistakes or criticize them it means they are pedant? that's what's wrong with people, if you just settle and agree with what you receive( news) as an audience without thinking about it or paying attention to something so important and fundamental as the writing, anyone can fool you then. I totally agree with Doris, there are some parts in this article that are confusing and horribly written. IT'S THE L.A TIMES can't they do better? I'm sure they can. If you are educated enough you can notice these mistakes and i don't see anything wrong with pointing them out.


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