Guilty plea in theft of art
Seattle Times staff reporters
A former Pioneer Square art-gallery owner who was accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of valuable art has pleaded guilty to nine counts of first-degree theft.
Kurt Lidtke, 41, faces between 33 and 43 months in prison when he is sentenced in King County Superior Court on Sept. 28. He was originally charged with 20 counts, but some were dismissed in exchange for his guilty plea.
Lidtke's attorney, John Henry Browne, said Lidtke was going through a difficult time when the thefts occurred and is committed to making restitution. The plea bargain, Browne said, "brings a closure to a really difficult time in Kurt's life."
According to charging documents, Lidtke failed to pay owners for more than $340,000 worth of art that he had sold on consignment.
Lidtke on Tuesday pleaded guilty to: the Aug. 15, 2003, theft of Morris Graves' "Bird on a Rock"; the Sept. 1, 2003, theft of Mark Tobey's "City Reflections"; the Oct. 15, 2003, theft of Tobey's "Above the Earth V"; the Dec. 10, 2003, theft of George Tsutakawa's "Summer Field"; the Jan. 22, 2004, theft of Morris Graves' "Chalicas"; the March 25, 2004, theft of Jay Steensma's "Bird Drinking Moonlight"; the May 1, 2004, theft of Kenneth Callahan's "Black Wave"; the May 17, 2004, theft of Paul Horiuchi's "Color to Parallel"; and the May 26, 2004, theft of Tobey's "Time in White."
The owners of the paintings had placed them with Lidtke's gallery on consignment and signed an agreement allowing him to be the trustee until the works were sold. Whenever one of the owners would check on the artwork, Lidtke or an assistant told them a potential purchaser was making up his mind, court documents say.
According to court documents, Lidtke was required to notify the artists or owners of an artwork when one was sold, then forward the payment minus his commission. Police said in charging documents that Lidtke frequently and intentionally failed to do so and lied about it when confronted.
Police used bank-account records to track the sale of some of the disputed art, but about half the pieces mentioned in the 20 counts could not be traced, according to court documents.
Lidtke's gallery was known for carrying paintings of the Northwest School and specialized in the works of Northwest masters such as Tobey and Graves.
As part of the plea agreement, Lidtke will have to return the art or reimburse the owners of the still-missing pieces. Browne said he believes Lidtke will be able to return many of the pieces.
Most of the owners found out there were problems with the gallery's consignment sales through a series of stories in The Seattle Times. When they went to retrieve the paintings, the owners, many of whom were elderly, found the gallery closed.
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or email@example.com
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