Using Fake Psychics, Brazilian Woman Allegedly Stole $142 Million Worth of Art

The elaborate scheme targeted her mother, the widow of a prominent art dealer, police say

Sol Poente painting
Police recovered the stolen painting Sol Poente, by Brazilian artist Tarsila do Amaral, during a raid last week. Courtesy of Polícia Civil do Estado do Rio de Janeiro

Brazilian police have arrested a 48-year-old woman on suspicion that she defrauded her 82-year-old mother out of $142 million (724 million reais) worth of artwork, jewelry and money, Leonardo Benassatto reports for Reuters.

The bizarre case centers on Sabine Boghici, who police say devised an elaborate scheme to steal valuable paintings and other items from her mother, Genevieve Boghici, the wife of late art collector and dealer Jean Boghici, who founded one of Rio de Janeiro’s first art galleries in 1961, reports the Art Newspaper’s Gabriella Angeleti.

Police in Rio de Janeiro arrested Sabine Boghici and four accomplices on August 10; they’re continuing to look for two additional suspects. The seven alleged perpetrators are facing charges of robbery, extortion, embezzlement, false imprisonment and criminal association.

Police say the saga began in January 2020, when a person purporting to be a psychic approached Genevieve Boghici as she was leaving a Rio de Janeiro bank and claimed that her daughter would die soon unless she received spiritual therapy. Genevieve Boghici began transferring money to the psychic to pay for the supposed therapy, reports El Pais’ Joan Royo Gual.

Genevieve Boghici then visited several other psychics, who used information provided by her daughter to swindle the woman out of more money, per Reuters. The situation escalated when the psychics began threatening Genevieve Boghici, and her daughter forced her to stay at home. Sabine Boghici dismissed all of her mother’s domestic workers and would not allow her mother to use the phone, per El Pais. As she became more suspicious, her daughter allegedly withheld food and put a knife to her throat.

During that time, Sabine Boghici and her accomplices began stealing artwork from the house, claiming that the paintings were “cursed with something negative, with negative energy that needed to be prayed over,” Gilberto Ribeiro, a Rio de Janeiro police officer, tells Reuters. All told, the suspects stole 16 paintings and sculptures, including pieces by Brazilian artists Cicero DiasRubens GerchmanAlberto Guignard and Tarsila do Amaral.

They also stole jewelry, including three Rolex watches worth an estimated $1.2 million, per the Art Newspaper.

Eventually, Genevieve Boghici decided to seek help from the authorities. Last week, police raided one of the suspect’s homes and recovered 11 paintings. They have also retrieved three paintings in Sao Paulo and are working to track down two additional works that the suspects sold to a museum in Bueno Aires.

Per Artnet’s Sarah Cascone, police discovered Amaral’s Sol Poente, worth an estimated $59 million, under the bed of one of the suspects.