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Former fugitive gets prison sentence in Laguna Beach art theft

September 9, 2009 |  1:45 pm

A former fugitive has been sentenced to two years and eight months in state prison for the theft of more than $260,000 in paintings from Laguna Beach galleries a decade ago, officials said today.

Joseph Michael Killebrew, 51, was arrested in February in Las Vegas, where he had been living under a false name.

He pleaded guilty Tuesday at the Harbor Justice Center in Newport Beach to four counts of grand theft with sentencing enhancements for theft over $100,000, according to a statement from the Orange County district attorney’s office.

Prosecutors said Killebrew filed a police report in April 1999 claiming that crystal, sculptures and more than $230,000 in oil paintings had been stolen from his San Diego home. He collected more than $260,000 from his insurance company for the reported losses.

Three months later, Killebrew allegedly purchased several oil paintings valued at over $261,000 from three Laguna Beach art galleries, plus $108,000 in works from a West Hollywood gallery. According to prosecutors, Killebrew paid for the works with personal checks, on which he then stopped payment.

When the galleries contacted Killebrew about the canceled checks, he said he had to leave the state for a family emergency. Prosecutors said he then fled the state.

When Killebrew was arrested Feb. 25 at his Las Vegas home, he was in possession of all the paintings from Laguna Beach, as well as items he had reported stolen in San Diego, authorities said.

-- Alexandra Zavis