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Missing Matisse thieves, a Cuban American man and a Mexican woman, plead guilty in Miami
Photographers take pictures of the painting "Odalisque in Red Pants" by French painter Henri Matisse on January 30, 2003 at the Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Caracas Sofia Imber (MACCSI) in Caracas. FBI agents have recovered what is believed to be a Matisse painting valued at $3 million that was stolen from a Venezuelan museum 10 years ago, and arrested two suspects, authorities said. AFP PHOTO / Felix Gerardi.
MIAMI (AFP).- A Cuban American man and a Mexican woman pleaded guilty in Miami Wednesday to trying to sell a $3 million Henri Matisse painting that vanished from a Venezuelan museum a decade ago, authorities said.

Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, a 46-year-old resident of Miami, and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo of Mexico City earlier denied in court that they conspired to transport and sell "Odalisque in Red Pants" but then changed their story, prosecutors said.

Marcuello Guzman pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport and sell stolen property, interstate transportation of stolen property and possession of stolen property, said US Attorney Wifredo Ferrer.

Ornelas Lazo, 50, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to transport and sell stolen property.

Marcuello Guzman could face up to 10 years in jail and Ornelas Lazo as many as five.

The two were scheduled to be sentenced January 22.

Venezuelan authorities realized in 2003 that the painting hanging at the Museum of Contemporary Art in the capital Caracas was actually a fake. The exact date of the theft is unknown, though December 2002 has been suggested.

The indictment accuses Guzman of negotiating the sale of the Matisse for approximately $740,000 during several meetings with undercover FBI agents. The painting has been valued by experts at $3 million.

Undercover FBI agents posing as buyers recovered the Matisse in August in Miami and arrested the two suspects.

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November 2, 2012

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