General view of the Drouot auction house in Paris.
Charles Plateau— Reuters
By TIME Staff
September 7, 2016

A French judge has jailed 30 porters who worked at one of Paris’ leading auction houses for the theft of artifacts and artwork worth millions of dollars.

The employees of Hôtel Drouot were given sentences ranging from 18 months to three years in prison, for operating a crime-ring that was responsible for stealing 275 tons of objects over at least a decade, the Guardian reports. Three auctioneers were given suspended sentences.

Among the stolen items were several antiques, paintings and jewelry, including a Ming dynasty Chinese plate worth nearly $370,000 and furniture from Irish designer Eileen Gray worth more than a million dollars.

The crime-ring consisted of members of a union of porters known as the cols rouges who were responsible for transporting antiques to the Hôtel Drouot. Police said the porters would steal the items during transportation or during the valuation of the estates of deceased art collectors. According to the Guardian, the organization operated like a secret criminal collective, distributing the bounty from stolen items equally among participating members. There are reports of members leading lavish lifestyles and driving luxury cars.

The scam was exposed in 2009 after an anonymous caller tipped police off to a stolen painting, leading to an investigation that included 147 separate searches. Investigators found nearly 6,000 stolen objects and the union — which was established in 1860 — was disbanded.

[Guardian]

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