MILWAUKEE — The man accused of masterminding the theft of a 300-year-old, $5 million Stradivarius violin that was snatched from a musician in Milwaukee was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison.
Salah Salahadyn, 42, once told an acquaintance that such a theft was his dream crime because of the instrument's value and the ease of grabbing it from a musician walking down the street.
The centuries-old instrument was stolen in January from Frank Almond, a concertmaster at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, as he walked to his vehicle following a performance. Almond was attacked with a stun gun during the theft.
The instrument was missing for nine days before police found it, in good condition, in a suitcase at the Milwaukee home of Salahadyn's acquaintances. Police said the homeowner didn't know what was in the luggage stored in his attic.
Salahadyn faced up to a decade in prison plus five years of extended supervision after he pleaded guilty in October to being party to felony robbery. Along with the prison term, Judge Dennis Moroney ordered Salahadyn to serve five years of extended supervision.
The violin theft wasn't Salahadyn's first art crime. He pleaded guilty in 2000 to trying to resell a $25,000 statue to the art gallery owner from whom it had been stolen in 1995. His ex-girlfriend told investigators that while he hadn't stolen the statue, he plotted the theft.
Another man charged in the violin theft, Universal K. Allah, was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison after pleading guilty in May to the same charge as Salahadyn. Prosecutors said Allah provided the stun gun used to attack Almond.
The musician has said he was lucky he didn't suffer a career-ending arm or wrist injury when he crumpled to the icy pavement that night.
Stradivarius violins were crafted by renowned Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari. Many are owned by private collectors who lend them to top violinists to be played in symphonies. Experts say a Stradivarius violin deteriorates if it's not used but remains in good condition when played regularly. The owner of the stolen violin has remained anonymous.
Experts estimate that 600 to 650 Stradivarius instruments remain, or about half of what the master produced. Although they can be worth millions of dollars, they are rarely stolen because they're catalogued so well that a thief would have a hard time selling one.