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If at First You Don't Succeed

Art thief hits Memphis galleries with same story.

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He's back! The art thief who tried to scam several Memphis galleries out of thousands of dollars in paintings last summer has reappeared and is back to his old ways.

Earlier this month, the man showed up at Etched Art gallery, 505 S. Main, attempting his latest scam. As in past incidents, he fabricated a story about purchasing art for his business office as well as a piece for his personal use.

"He wanted his company logo etched on a large piece of glass," said business owner Ryan Hamlin. "He said his interior designer had been in and selected pieces for his review." The man then picked out two pieces costing about $1,800 and a third piece for his beach house. When the total came to $4,750, the man offered to pay for the pieces in cash but requested an additional $425 granite piece be released to him in good faith. He promised to return for the remaining three pieces.

"I asked him for his ID, but he refused to give it to me," said Hamlin. "When I told him no [about leaving with the granite piece], he got a temper, started walking out, and said, 'This is the same Memphis bullshit.'" During the transaction, the suspect also told Hamlin he was employed by British Petroleum but never produced a business card. Hamlin followed the man outside and was able to record a partial license plate number.

Sgt. Denise Jones with the MPD Economic Crimes Bureau, who has covered the art thefts since August 2003, said the Etched Art incident is the fourth in a series by the same suspect. While no culprit has been identified, the police have released a description. Police are searching for a white male, 35 to 40 years old, weighing 180 to 215 pounds, with short blond/gray hair. In some instances, the man has used a British or Australian accent. He has also been known to drive a 1990s four-door Jeep Cherokee with Tennessee plates.

The suspect made off with a painting valued at $1,500 from the DCI Gallery in East Memphis last year. In that case, the man claimed to be a new doctor in town decorating his Germantown home. He used the name Greg Michaels and claimed to be a member of the DeBeers diamond family. Unlike the Etched Art incident, where he never provided a name, the suspect also gave a phony address and phone number for future contact from DCI. He attempted similar scams at Fountain Gallery, also in East Memphis, and at Rivertown Gallery downtown.

"We thought this was the guy from a similar case years ago, but that guy is deceased," said Jones. Unfortunately, the partial plate number provided by Hamlin does not do much to narrow the search. According to Jones, that partial number matches as many as 2,000 cars.

E-mail: jdavis@memphisflyer.com

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