Alleged OC Art Thief Arrested in Vegas

LAGUNA BEACH, Calif. -- A fugitive charged with stealing more than $260,000 in original paintings from Laguna Beach galleries in 1999 was arrested Wednesday on a decade-old warrant while living under a false name in Las Vegas.

Joseph Michael Killebrew, 50, was charged with four felony counts of grand theft and sentencing enhancements for theft more than $100,000. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of eight years and four months in state prison.

Killebrew is being held in Las Vegas without bail and will face extradition proceedings in Nevada. 

In April 1999, Killebrew field a report with the San Diego Police Department claiming that his San Diego County home had been burglarized, according to the Orange County District Attorney's Office.

"He claimed that various items from his personal art collection had been stolen including crystal, sculptures and more than $230,000 in oil paintings. Killebrew received over $260,000 from his insurance company for the claimed losses," according to a statement from the OCDA.

In July 1999, Killebrew purchased several original oil paintings valued at more than $261,000 from Laguna Beach art galleries DeRus Fine Art, Redfern Gallery and Joan Irvine Smith Fine Art.

"The defendant is accused of writing four personal checks for the paintings. After leaving the galleries with the paintings, Killebrew is accused of stopping payment on the checks," according to a statement from the OCDA.


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"During that time, Killebrew is accused of purchasing three original oil paintings valued over $108,000 from Edenhurst Gallery in West Hollywood, and also stopping payment on the personal checks used for the purchase. The Los Angeles theft was filed as a separate case in Los Angeles County and a warrant was issued in that case," according to a statement from the OCDA.

When the galleries contacted Killebrew after failing to receive payment, he allegedly claimed that he had to leave the state for a family emergency and would resolve his due payments when he returned.

Killebrew is accused of then fleeing the state.

In September 1999, the OCDA charged Killebrew with grand theft and filed a warrant for his arrest. The case remained cold until November 2008, when OCDA investigators located Killebrew living in Las Vegas under the alias "Michael Palmer."

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