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North Woolwich housekeeper stole artwork to clear debts

17:00 15 November 2012

A housekeeper swiped a £100,000 painting from an Italian financier in a bid to clear her debts and renovate her house, a court heard.

Cresentla Ragonton, 58, helped herself to ‘Study for Light’ by Ed Ruscha from the Belgravia home of Giuseppe Ciardi in central London.

She tried to sell the artwork at top auction house Bonhams, with an estimated price of £80,000 to £100,000, but police intercepted before the sale could take place.

Westminster Magistrates Court heard Ragonton needed cash to clear her debts and also had designs on a refit of her own home.

Prosecutor Guy Saul said when arrested she claimed to have debts of £15,000 and also said she wanted to renovate her house “because it was very cold.”

Ragonton worked as Mr Ciardi’s housekeeper at his home in Chester Square for six years, and would often look after his children, the court heard.

Mr Ciardi, 59, made his fortune as the founder of hedge fund Park Place Capital and bought the art work in New York in 2004 for $65,000.

His wife Alexandra was tragically killed in 2005 when she was hit by a speed boat while on holiday in Sardinia.

Ragonton admitted stealing the painting on August 6 this year.

District Judge Michael Fanning told her: “This was a significant breach of trust, you have stolen from your employer who clearly believe he could have left you in charge of his premises.

“You abused that trust, and had you got away with it he would have been significantly out of pocket.”

He said Ragonton would be given credit for the guilty plea when sahe is sentenced at Southwark Crown Court at a date to be set.

Ragonton’s barrister, Temi Johnson, said she had been in the UK for several years, and lived with her children who are in their 20s at her home in CShepp[ard Street, Canning Town.

She has no previous convictions, has never been arrested. “It appears this was a one-off incident,” she said.

Ms Johnson added there was “no actual loss”, because the painting was recovered before it could be auctioned off.

Ragonton was released on conditional bail. She had admitted one count of theft.

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