Home Chicago Press Releases 2009 Stolen Cultural Artifacts Found in Berwyn Residence Returned to Italian Authorities
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Stolen Cultural Artifacts Found in Berwyn Residence Returned to Italian Authorities

FBI Chicago June 08, 2009
  • Special Agent Garrett Croon (312) 829-1199

Robert D. Grant, Special Agent-in-Charge of the Chicago office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) announced today the return of approximately 1,600 stolen artifacts to the Italian government. The repatriated items were among over 3,500 suspected antiquities that were discovered in April of 2007 inside the Berwyn, Illinois residence of John A. Sisto, who was a naturalized U.S. Citizen.

The repatriated items include parchments and manuscripts, many with papal wax seals and some dating to the 1100’s; several hundred Etruscan artifacts, many dating to 500 – 900  B.C.; over 1,000 books, some handwritten, dating to the 1700’s; and numerous religious and political artifacts, including letters written by former kings, popes and other members of the Roman Catholic Church. The value of these items has been estimated at between $5 million - $10 million. All of the repatriated items are believed to have been removed from Italy, in violation of their Cultural Property Laws.

The existence of the recovered items was first brought to the attention of law enforcement authorities in the United States by heirs of Mr. Sisto, following his death in 2007. While attempting to settle the estate, family members discovered the literal treasure trove of artifacts, which they had not previously known to be in the house. Alarmed by both the quantity of items and their apparent historical significance, they notified the Berwyn Police Department (BPD).

Initial investigation was conducted by the BPD, who in turn contacted the Chicago FBI for assistance. Members of the FBI’s Art Crime Team (ACT) then took possession of over 3,500 items and began the exhaustive process of trying to identify and authenticate each one. Investigators worked closely with the Italian Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage and the Italian Ministry for Cultural Assets and Activities, whose assistance was invaluable to this process.

Investigation into the origin of the seized items determined that most came from the Bari region of Italy.  Although it is still uncertain how this quantity of historical artifacts came to be in the Berwyn residence, investigators believe that they were secretly shipped to John A. Sisto by his father, Giuseppe “Joseph” Sisto, who was an Italian citizen living in Italy. The items were probably shipped to the U.S. beginning in the early 1960’s and continued on until the elder Sisto’s death in 1982. Investigators further believe that the elder Sisto’s motive for shipping the items to the U.S was to have them sold by his son for a profit, who at the time operated a collectables store in Berwyn. Investigators also believe that the elder Sisto obtained the artifacts by various means, primarily from third parties who would loot private collections for personal gain. However, it appears that John A. Sisto was more interested in the historical value of the items, rather than their monetary value, resulting in the inventory that was recovered. 

In announcing the recovery and return of these artifacts, Mr. Grant noted that this investigation typifies the growing international problem of Cultural Property Crimes. Said Mr. Grant, “Not only do thefts such as these result in a significant monetary loss, but they also deprive the world of part of its cultural history.” Mr. Grant also expressed the FBI’s appreciation to the family of John A. Sisto and the Berwyn Police Department, for their invaluable assistance in connection with this investigation.

The origin and ownership of the remaining 2,000 items recovered from the Berwyn residence could not be determined and as such, are being returned to the estate of John Sisto.

No criminal prosecutions will be forthcoming in the Northern District of Illinois in connection with the theft, transportation or possession of the stolen artifacts. The filing of criminal charges for violation of Italy’s Cultural Property Laws will be at the sole discretion of Italian authorities.

Established in 2004, the FBI’s Art Crime Team (ACT) has recovered over 1000 items of cultural property, valued at approximately $135 million. Members of the ACT, who are assigned to various FBI offices across the country, have all received specialized training in art and cultural property investigations.  Additional information about the FBI’s Art Theft Program is available on-line at www.fbi.gov.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A detailed listing of the items being returned to Italian authorities is available from the Chicago FBI Press Office at (312) 829-1199.