A man accused of stealing $3.2 million worth of high-end and rare paintings from the Santa Monica home of financier Jeffrey Gundlach in September and the five people who allegedly stored the loot pleaded not guilty Friday to charges that include first-degree residential burglary and conspiracy.
The six defendants were ordered jailed on $10 million bail while awaiting their next appearance Jan. 18 at the Airport Branch Courthouse in Los Angeles.
Prosecutors allege the theft was the work of 43-year-old Darren Agee Merager. He is accused of breaking into Gundlach's home between Sept. 12 and Sept. 13 to steal the paintings, jewelry and wine.
"Merager then allegedly returned hours later and stole Gundlach’s red 2010 Porsche Carrera 4S at the behest of Jay Jeffrey Nieto, 45," said Deputy District Attorney Alva Lin.
Merager is charged with two counts each of first-degree residential burglary and conspiracy to commit a crime and one count of receiving stolen property. Nieto, is charged with one count each of first-degree residential burglary, receiving stolen property and being an accessory after the fact and two counts of conspiracy to commit a crime.
Also charged as co-conspirators are Merager’s 68-year-old mother, Brenda Joyce Merager, and two brothers, 29-year-old Wanis George Wahba and his 26-year-old brother, Ely George Wahba. The three allegedly tried to sell and conceal the stolen items. A sixth man, Wilmer Bolosan Cadiz, 40, is charged with conspiracy and receiving stolen items.
Merager, who has multiple prior convictions, is facing more than nine years in state prison if convicted, according to the D.A.'s office.
The CEO of Doubline Capital, Gundlach had offered nearly $2 million in reward money for the safe return of the artwork. Some of the pieces were rare, including a Piet Mondrian painting, "Composition (A) en Rouge et Blanc;" others were by Jasper Johns, Philip Guston and Richard Diebenkorn.
Most of the art was recovered by the police in September from a Pasadena automotive supply store managed by Nieto.
— City News Service contributed to this report.