Where's the Fat Man? [Richard Chicofsky] Boston Herald April 2009

In 1997, while Myles J. Connor Jr. was getting extensive coverage in the Herald and elsewhere as a possible player in the Gardner heist, the FBI was quietly approaching a Dorchester career criminal and crime boss, Carmello "Carmen" Merlino, in an attempt to recover the museum's paintings. Merlino, whose name was first raised somewhat dubiously in connection with the Gardner theft in 1992, didn't have the stolen art, but he jumped at the chance to try to get his hands on it in return for the $5 million reward.

Enter Richard "The Fat Man" Chicofsky, now 73, a career con man who injected himself into the affair between Merlino and FBI special agent Neil P. Cronin (deceased, 2003 car accident), then the lead case agent in the investigation. "Fat Ritchie," as he was also known (for good reason), went on to tell Cronin and the feds that he believed the Gardner theft itself was perpetrated by members of Merlino's crew, and specifically tossed out these names: David A.Turner, 41, George A. Reissfelder (deceased), Richard P. "Dickie" Joyce, 70, and Leonard V. "Lenny" DiMuzio (deceased). And on a number of occasions, The Fat Man reported back to Cronin (wrongly) that Merlino was just days away from returning the art to the museum.

Of course, Chicofsky's reports never materialized into anything approaching the recovery of the art.

Instead, Merlino and Turner, along with Stephen A. Rossetti (a 50-year-old career criminal) and William F. Merlino (Carmello's 48-year-old nephew),

fell for an elaborate FBI sting. They were arrested and convicted of attempting to rob the Loomis Fargo armored car depot in Easton, Mass., of $50 million. In the end, the feds won lengthy sentences against the four - Merlino died in prison in 2005, at age 71 ; Turner is facing another 23 years; Rosetti another 35; William Merlino gets out in November 2010) -- and thus closed another bizarre, dead-end chapter in the Gardner investigation. But not for the chubby Chicofsky.

Even as he was bringing his flimsy information to Cronin, Chicofsky was also busy allegedly conning a Fall River Police Department dispatcher, Nuno Barboza, out of $400,000 via a number of "investment" scams, including what Chicofsky said would be a share in a $10 million reward from the Gardner Museum (the reward is in fact $5 million). Instead, Barboza and his wife ended up with federal criminal charges and accepted pleas to stay out of jail.

"He's ruined my life," Barboza told the Herald in 2002.

Barboza wasn't Chicofsky's only victim. At least four others were conned out of more than $2 million in Chicofsky's scheme to "share" with them the reward for the return of the Gardner art, according to court affidavits. The scheme had the gulls paying Chicofsky hundreds of thousands up front, with a promise that Fat Man would pay it back with hefty interest when the Gardner reward money came through. That fraud case was dropped, reportedly due to lack of evidence.

The Fat Man didn't limit himself to Gardner-related scams. In fact, he began his career as a con man in 1962 when he became a federal informant for disgraced FBI agent H. Paul Rico (deceased), who also developed Stephen "The Rifleman" Flemmi (doing life) as a rat. Chicofsky, who was also handled by rogue former G-man John J. Connolly Jr. (life in prison in Florida), admitted to the Boston Globe that he sold drugs and worked cons while an informant.

Ultimately, this weighty informant wound up at the center of the David Turner defense team's argument that Turner was set up by the FBI in the 1999 Loomis case because they believed Turner and Merlino could retrieve the Gardner heist. The defense tried to put Chicofsky on the stand, but The Fat Man refused to testify, pleading the Fifth.

Did Chicofsky ever really have solid information on the whereabouts of the Gardner art? It's unlikely.

But where is he now? Do you have any photos of him? We want to know. Feel free to use our confidential email address -- gardnertheft@bostonherald.com -- to contact us.

Copyright Boston Herald Newspaper

Gardner Museum Heist