There are about 100 of us packed into a restaurant in Upper Holmesburg, Philadelphia – art experts and curators, museum security chiefs, and a phalanx of FBI agents with 9mm Glocks concealed under their G-man suits.
We have gathered to say farewell to a man few people have heard of and even fewer could recognise or describe.
That is the way Special Agent Robert “Bob” Wittman prefers it.
For nearly two decades, usually masquerading as a crooked art dealer with links to the Mafia or the Colombian drug cartels, he has run undercover sting operations, luring criminals into selling him stolen works of art.
Art crime is big business. Estimated to be worth between $1.5 – $6 billion annually, it is now the fourth largest international crime, after drug dealing, gun running and money laundering.
Bob Wittman has been on the frontlines of the war against art crime since 1989.
In a distinguished career he has recovered stolen art worth millions, in more than a dozen countries.
Now, at the age of 53, the king of heists is hanging up his silver badge and gun to write a book and spend more time with his wife and three children.
Always a delight to hear about a copper who honors the profession. For too many – including a small percentage of those I’ve known personally – it’s a sinecure, a civil service gig like working for the state highway department, even an easy source of drugs.
I’ll be waiting in line to buy and read Bob Wittman’s book.