ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – After investigating a robbery at a St. Augustine art gallery, police said they suspect the heist was an inside job.
Investigators were called to the Parkmara Galleries on St. George Street last Tuesday after an employee reported a burglary.
The employee told police that $28,000 worth of paintings and sculptures were missing.
Police said at first the story seemed black and white; a thief broke into the gallery and took off with thousands of dollars worth of art, but once police started asking questions they said the story started to get more colorful.
The employee who called the police to report the burglary has become investigator's No. 1 suspect.
"He stated he had arrived to work and found several paintings and artwork missing. He said he had left the shop at approximately 6:04 p.m. He and another associate set the alarm," said Detective Cecilia Aiple.
However, what police said the employee didn't know was that his girlfriend had already told detectives she picked him up at 6:20 p.m., not 6:04 p.m., and the alarm was turned off at 6:11 p.m.
Then, police said they discovered the employee and his girlfriend had rented a van. They said the gallery employee and his girlfriend originally denied renting the vehicle.
"I continued talking to him ... we had other officers make contact with the girlfriend at his residence and she stated they had not rented the vehicle as of yet," said Aiple. "After calling several rental places we found they had rented the van the day before the burglary."
After investigators showed the employee proof of the van rental, they said he admitted he swiped the pricey art because of an alleged business deal gone badly with one of the gallery owners.
"He took it upon himself to obtain all of the paintings from the art gallery so he would have some sort of bargaining tool," said Aiple.
Police said they later found the rented van filled with more than $85,000 worth of art. Detectives said about $45,000 worth of art remains unaccounted for.
They said the employee faces charges for filing a false police report and felony grand theft. The employee's girlfriend and the gallery's owner could also face charges.