Recovered Italian Artifacts Headed Home
In March 2007, members of the Berwyn, Illinois Police Department entered the home of a recently deceased man at the request of his son. What they found in that small house in a Chicago suburb eventually reverberated nearly 5,000 miles away: the late owner of the home—John Sisto—had been haphazardly storing more than 3,500 suspected antiquities from Italy in boxes, in piles on the floor, and on bookshelves.
On Monday, some of those items were on public display for the first time in years during a press conference with our partners—when Special Agent in Charge Robert Grant of our Chicago office announced that approximately 1,600 of them would be returned to Italian authorities.
Bountiful discovery. When Berwyn police discovered the treasure trove of what appeared to be historical items—like books, parchments, documents, and works of art—they contacted the Chicago FBI for assistance in identifying the items. That’s when members of our Art Crime Team began an investigation, working closely with the Berwyn police, our Legal Attaché in Rome, the Italian Command for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, and the Italian Ministry for Cultural Assets and Activities.
After moving the artifacts to our Chicago office, investigators photographed and catalogued each item. Pictures were sent to subject matter experts in Italy, who identified the items as having come from the Bari region of Italy. These experts traveled to the U.S. twice for a close-up look at the rest of the inventory. After conferring with various churches, archives, libraries, and owners of private collections in Italy, they determined that about 1,600 of the items had been stolen and should be returned.
Included among the items were:
How did John Sisto amass such a collection? We think that in most instances the items were secretly shipped to Sisto from his father—an Italian citizen living in Italy—from the early 1960s until the older man’s death in 1982. John Sisto was probably instructed by his father to sell the items at the antique shop he was running at the time, but he didn’t have much luck. John Sisto also made an attempt to get various museums and libraries interested in his collection, but that didn’t pan out either, so he simply stored most of the items in his home.
It appeared that Sisto, who spent a great deal of his time translating and studying the various manuscripts and parchments, was more interested in the historical significance of the items than their monetary value.
Because the principals in this case are deceased, no charges will be filed in the United States. Nonetheless, we are pleased that these priceless artifacts will be returning home to their historical birthplace, thanks to the joint efforts of the Berwyn Police Department, Italian authorities, our field office in Chicago, and the family of John Sisto. Grazie e buona fortuna.