Thief has art galleries scratching their head over his identity

2019-04-08 08:01

A thief who has a penchant for luxury items is causing headaches for store owners who sell art, furniture and Persian carpets in Johannesburg.

The man in question, uses the false identity of Clint or Clinton when duping small business owners.

Police have been unable to track down the suspect, and a private security company has been brought on board to try find the brazen thief.

SCP Security says, through its investigations, it has found that man has been using a similar modus operarandi since 2008.

Accident

Louise Boshoff-Erasmus of Future Art Era is one of his victims.

She said she received a call from the man one day telling her he wanted to invest in Adriaan Boshoff's artwork. 

"He asked whether I had them and I said I had a very large one and two smaller ones. He said to me that the next morning he had a very early meeting and can I be at the gallery by 09:00, and I said I would," she told News24.

Erasmus said when she showed the man artworks, he told her they were the exact pieces for which he had been looking. 

"He took it off the wall and said, 'Let's go to the car, so we can put it in [the car] and then we can have coffee and do the administration, like the signing of invoice,'" she said. 

Erasmus said, when they were approaching the car, the man suddenly received a phone call and he told her that his mother had been involved in an accident (fell and broke her hip in a old age home) and that he had to rush off. 

One of the artworks was worth R35 000, while the other was valued at R38 000, said Erasmus.

She said the works stolen were by George Pemba.

"He said he would sort it [payment] out and he had to rush. I actually really believed him," she said. 

Erasmus said she was able to communicate with him on the day, where he asked for her banking details. However, after 14:00, she was unable to reach him on the number he had given her.

"It's very, very sad. I feel so stupid. I can't tell you how stupid I feel. It's like I walked right into it," she said. 

No show

Prior to his latest robbery in March, the suspect had targeted several other stores, including Millar's Oriental Carpets in Northcliff and Purple Heart Gallery in Honeydew. 

The owner of Purple Heart Gallery, Letitia Stalker, said the man visited her shop one morning in January. He later left, saying he would return. 

About 10 minutes before closing on the same day, he returned saying he would like to take two paintings to show to his spouse. He told Stalker that if his wife liked them, he would purchase three more artworks.

"He tried to swipe his card, which was a Standard Chartered card. They tried to swipe it, but it was unsuccessful twice and he said the ATM was not working; and said if we don't mind that he took the paintings to show his wife and, if she likes it, he would come back and take the other three, otherwise he would return the paintings first thing the next morning," Stalker said. 

Stalker said they then made copies of his credit card, driver's licence and his address details.

millars carpets

Millar's Oriental Carpets Apro slip that "Clint" filled in. (Supplied)                             

The name the man had given them proved to belong to someone else who worked at Wits University.

"He came to the gallery when we had told him what had happened and we had suspected that this man was using his ID and things," she said. 

Stalker said the man, to whom News24 has also spoken, verified that, while the details on the Namibian driver's licence submitted by the suspect were his, the photo was not. 

The man, who wanted to remain anonymous, told News24 that he was working with Intelligence Bureau SA to try and catch the suspect 

"He just has my name and ID number. I am very anxious," he said. 

He added that he had no idea how the suspect got hold of his personal details.

Stalker said the stolen paintings, by a local South African, were valued at about R4 000.

"I haven't officially opened a case. I have got all the documents and we have been to the police station twice, where we just sit and sit, and I just feel my time is more valuable being at the business, rather than sitting at the police station for ages not being attended to," Stalker said.  

Chobi carpet 

A month later, the thief targeted Millar's Oriental Carpets, where he identified himself as Clint while enquiring about a chobi carpet.  

The store offers clients an opportunity to take rugs on an apro basis, which entails taking an item for three days and making payment if satisfied. If not, the carpets can be returned. 

"Around lunchtime, he came to the shop, saying he was in a hurry because he needed to pick up his mother-in-law, and that she lived in Hartebeesport and his car was in the garage.

"He came in and wanted to take those three carpets on appro and gave us false information. He gave us his 'name' that was 'Clint' and a cellphone number," Bezuidenhout alleged.

Bezuidenhout said the man had taken carpets valued at R57 000. When the store contacted "Clint" on March 4, he promised that he would return the merchandise. 

However, from there onward, the man was not reachable on the number he had provided. She said a case was opened at the Fairlands police station.

According to Fairland police station spokesperson Constable Moloko Kgatla, a case of theft had been investigated, but was later closed.

"There is no suspect that we have arrested and the case is closed. Police are just checking for any leads so that the case can be reopened," Kgatla added. 

He said the investigating officer working on the case was struggling to pin down a suspect. 

Security company brought on board

SCP was brought in to investigate after Millar's Carpets hired them.

SCP director Clive Maher said, when he started looking into the matter, he made an enquiry on social media and that was when he started getting tip-offs and information from other galleries which had been robbed in a similar manner. 

He said, while most of the galleries hadn't registered a case as they did not have the suspect's real details, he had advised them to do so anyway. 

"I have asked them to please go and open a police case and send me the case number, so that when we do catch him we can link him to all the cases," said Maher. 

He said they would catch the man soon. 

"I'm currently running a day or two days behind him. I know where he was yesterday and the day before but I am battling to get him on the actual day," he said.

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