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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Snatch-A-Sketch

Aired June 18, 2003 - 19:45   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: From Rikers Island, New York City's famous or infamous jail, of all places, comes word of an art heist as weird, as surreal as the art itself.
CNN's Jamie Colby has been sent to Rikers, thankfully not because she's bad, but so she could cover this story -- Jamie.

JAMIE COLBY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: My mom's probably really worried right now, Anderson.

I have to tell you that Salvador Dali, the surrealist, would find so much humor all over this story.

Take, for example, the sign behind me that leads into Rikers Island, where they brag they have the boldest correction officers in the world. Well, that certainly seems to be the case in this real "Thomas Crown Affair."

The officials that are investigating the heist of that artwork aren't looking at the convicted felons. They're looking at four prison officials charged with watching them.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLBY (voice-over): Prisoner officials say Salvador Dali gave this 1965 sketch depicting Christ on the cross to the inmates of Rikers Island when he was too ill to attend a planned discussion there on art. The unnamed pen and ink drawing by the Spanish surrealist, officially owned by the City of New York, survived nearly 40 years behind bars amidst convicted felons, until March 1, when prison officers stopped to pray before the Dali and spotted a fake.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many of the correction officers, because it is a painting of the crucifix, had a practice of stopping and saying a brief prayer.

COLBY: And what is so surreal about the now missing masterpiece is that it wasn't stolen be inmates, but, says the Bronx district attorney, by two assistant deputy wardens and two corrections officers, who allegedly replaced the framed work with an unframed fake during a staged fire drill.

ROBERT JOHNSON, BRONX DISTRICT ATTORNEY: This crime is a result of shameless arrogance, fueled by greed.

COLBY: The four prison officials have been suspended and charged with grand larceny, which could put them behind the same bars they guarded for five to 15 years each.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLBY: Even though they've all four pled not guilty, they've been suspended while the investigation continues. And investigators say, Anderson, they have no idea where the sketch is. So they're asking the public for help, and hoping that they'll locate it, without saying, if they do find it, if it will come back to Rikers Island.

And, Anderson, since this is my first time at Rikers Island, my photographer, Ken (ph), suggested that I give you this and this.

COOPER: Jamie, thanks.

I only saw the fake very briefly. Was it that bad? I mean, how did the guards know the sketch was a fake?

COLBY: Apparently it was ritual when the guards came in to stand in front of the crucifixion sketch and say a prayer. Well, when they got up close to it, almost immediately after it was replaced, they noticed the frame was gone and a frame was painted on. So they're not professional art experts, but they could tell something was wrong -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jamie Colby, thanks very much. Totally surreal.

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