A man accused of masterminding the theft of a $5 million Stradivarius violin pleaded guilty to robbery on Friday (Oct. 3), nearly eight months after the 300-year-old instrument was snatched from a musician who was attacked with a stun gun following a performance in Milwaukee.
Salah Salahadyn was taken into custody after changing his plea during a hearing in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. He could face as many as 10 years in prison when sentenced Nov. 10.
The instrument was missing for nine days before police found it, in good condition, in a suitcase at the Milwaukee home of Salahadyn’s acquaintances. Police said the homeowner didn’t know what was in the suitcase, which was found in the attic.
Court documents allege that Salahadyn told an acquaintance that such a robbery would be his dream crime because of the instrument’s value and the ease of grabbing it from a musician walking down the street. It wasn’t his first being involved in such a crime: He pleaded guilty in 2000 to trying to resell a $25,000 statue to the art gallery owner from whom it had been stolen in 1995. His ex-girlfriend told investigators that while he hadn’t stolen the statue himself, he did plot the theft.
The other man charged in the violin case, Universal K. Allah, was sentenced to 3 and a half years in prison after pleading guilty in May to being party to felony robbery, the same charge to which Salahadyn pleaded guilty. Prosecutors said Allah provided the stun gun used to attack the concertmaster, Frank Almond.
Almond was attacked with the stun gun Jan. 27 in a parking lot after leaving a performance in Milwaukee. Almond has said he was lucky he didn’t suffer a career-ending arm or wrist injury when he crumpled to the icy pavement that night.
Stradivarius violins were crafted by renowned Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari. Many are owned by private collectors who lend them to top violinists to be played in symphonies. Experts say a Stradivarius violin deteriorates if it’s not used but remains in good condition when played regularly.
The owner of the stolen violin has remained anonymous. But she filed a victim-impact statement when Allah was sentenced, extoling the virtues of the Stradivarius, calling it a direct link to history.
“It is, after all, an amazing work of craftsmanship that in the right hands is capable of producing matchless, exquisite sound that expresses every emotion,” her statement said.
Experts estimate that about 600 to 650 Stradivarius instruments remain, or about half of what the master produced. Although they can be worth millions of dollars, they are rarely stolen because they’re catalogued so well that a thief would have a hard time selling one.