Cops clip shippers in Oscar caper

$50,000 reward depends on conviction

In a quirky crime narrative worthy of film noir — or a Dom DeLuise road comedy — police Monday arrested two suspects in connection with the theft of 55 Oscar statuettes.

The men, identified as Anthony Keith Hart and Lawrence Edward Ledent, both 38, were each being held in an L.A. jail on $100,000 bail. Both had worked for 10 years at Roadway Express, the company that was shipping the Oscars to L.A. from Chicago for Sunday’s ceremony.

Detectives followed a trail to Hart and Ledent after a salvage man stumbled upon 52 of the missing trophies Sunday night while rooting through a trash bin behind a Koreatown grocery.

Few details about how the two pulled off the inside job or how they planned to profit from it emerged from a midday news conference at Parker Center, downtown headquarters of the L.A. Police Dept.

Willie Fullgear, 61, found the statuettes Sunday night and called the media before notifying police. He did not, however, put in an appearance at the press conference.

Authorities thanked Fullgear, but couldn’t guarantee that he would be completely exonerated by their ongoing investigation. Other suspects are being pursued and the case remains open, they added.

Whatever their method, Hart and Ledent apparently thought they could turn Oscar gold into some quick coin.

“They did it for profit,” detective Marc Zavala told reporters.

Despite a manufacturing cost of $18,000, the blank statuettes “weren’t very marketable,” said Robert Rehme, prexy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. “So these guys weren’t that smart. They just made a big mistake.”

In contrast to a wisecrack-filled media event Friday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, Monday’s straitlaced session began with police wheeling in two carts covered with thick blankets. Under the blankets lay 52 of the stolen Oscars. The other three remain at large.

In attendance Monday, along with Rehme and Zavala, were Chief Bernard Parks, a Roadway Express exec and Acad exec director Bruce Davis. (Parks, his mind perhaps on higher-profile crimes, repeatedly referred to the stolen items as “Oscar silhouettes.”)

The city of Bell has been the focal point of two weeks of unorthodox buildup to Sunday’s Oscar ceremony. The statuettes were reported missing from a Roadway delivery terminal in Bell last week (Daily Variety, March 17). The previous week, as first reported in Daily Variety, sacks containing 4,000 Oscar ballots were mistakenly diverted to Bell.

Those recent distractions had everyone at the Parker Center news conference expressing relief at the timing of the arrests.

Praise for police

“I can’t say enough about the LAPD,” said Rehme. “They jumped in and solved this case in a week — and this is a very important week. The show will go on.”

Despite some anxious moments of late, Acad officials freely admit the chain of events hasn’t hurt their publicity efforts. Ditto the beleaguered LAPD — after answering reporters’ questions, police posed for photos, hoisting the purloined statuettes and grinning.

No officials would speculate about whether Fullgear would receive a $50,000 reward that had been posted. They said the reward depends on a conviction in the case, which was scheduled to be brought to the district attorney today.

Jon Gerloff, a Roadway Express security official, said the Bell facility has one entrance and one exit. All trucks pass through a security checkpoint, but cargo is not always checked if drivers show proper ID.

Hart and Ledent apparently drove out with the Oscar-laden truck the usual way, without arousing suspicion.

The real crime, many showbizzers suggested, would be giving Sunday’s winners Oscars that had been sitting in the trash. Acad officials would say only that they have enough little gold men to last three years. And they’re just glad their little Oscar is back home.

“I don’t know if I thought we’d get them,” Davis conceded. “I thought these people might be so underground that it would take a long time, so this day is terrifically heartening.”

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