|By Jim Rutledge
MILWAUKEE — Two suspects, one a convicted art thief, were charged Feb. 7 with the Taser-gun robbery of a rare 300-year-old Stradivarius violin from a concert orchestra leader, and law enforcement authorities say they have recovered the violin intact and unharmed.
Police charged Universal Knowledge Allah, 36, and his friend, Salah Jones Salahadyn, 40, with one count of robbery each. Allah also faces a charge of possession with intent to deliver a controlled substance.
Salahadyn served time in prison less than 10 years ago for stealing a $25,000 statue from a gallery at Milwaukee’s Pfister Hotel in 1995 and trying to sell it back to the gallery owner.
“It appears we have a local criminal who was very much interested in art theft and who was smart enough to identify this instrument,” Milwaukee Police Chief Ed Flynn said at a news conference.
The violin, described as a 1713 Lipinski Stradivarius, was snatched Jan. 27 from Frank Almond, concertmaster for the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, following a late evening concert at the city’s performance hall. Police say Almond told them ejected probes from a Taser struck him in the wrist and chest, knocking him to the ground. When Almond regained control, the violin was missing. After the attack, the two suspects fled in a waiting van.
The violin case was discovered a few hours later on the north side of the city. Police said it appeared that the black case had been tossed from the vehicle, apparently spilling some of its contents. Police said also missing from the case were two 19th century bows valued at $20,000 and $30,000, an Apple iPad with charger, and a cellphone.
The investigation got a break on Sunday, Feb. 2, police said, when a citizen told police Allah asked him for a ride home after a trip to a barbershop and told him during the ride that a person named “Salah” stole the violin.
The next day, police executed a search warrant on the home of Salahadyn, where investigators say they found a binder with articles related to Stradivarius violins and stories related to art thefts. At Allah’s home, police say, they found a loaded handgun, marijuana and a drug weight scale.
One of the suspects led police to the home of an acquaintance Feb. 5, where police found the violin packed in a black suitcase in the attic. In the suitcase, police say, they found a slip of paper “connecting the suitcase to the suspect. Police say the home’s owner was unaware of the suitcase’s contents.
Almond was scheduled to perform with the recovered violin back in Milwaukee during the week of Feb. 10.
The violin was on loan to Almond by a private Milwaukee homeowner. According to Darnton & Hersh Fine Violins, the designated curator of the instrument, the fair replacement value for the violin is $5 million for insurance purposes. The Lipinski is one of 600 to 650 violins, violas and cellos still in existence that were designed and made by the famed Italian artisan Antonio Stradivari.
A judge set a $10,000 cash bail for Salahadyn. Allah’s ball was set at $500, and he was released because he has no previous criminal record. Both suspects face 10-year prison sentences if convicted.