MILWAUKEE — The man who masterminded the theft of a $5 million Stradivarius violin admitted Monday that he used a stun gun to attack a musician carrying the 300-year-old instrument, saying he intended to sell it to help people he believed were wrongly evicted from an apartment building he managed.
A judge rejected that argument from Salah Salahadyn, calling it a "Robin Hood" mentality, and sentenced him to seven years in prison.
"There's a right. There's a wrong. Don't confuse them," Judge Dennis Moroney told Salahadyn.
Salahadyn, 42, stole the violin in January as Frank Almond, a concertmaster at the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, walked to his vehicle carrying the instrument following a performance. Court documents say Salahadyn told an acquaintance that stealing a Stradivarius violin was his dream crime because of the instrument's value and the ease of grabbing it from a musician.
Salahadyn said he approached Almond, reached out for the violin and shocked the musician with a stun gun before jumping into a getaway car driven by Salahadyn's girlfriend.
"I knew it was wrong," Salahadyn told the judge. "But I felt that the ends would be justified, but they weren't."
The instrument was missing for nine days before police found it, in good condition, wrapped in a baby blanket in a suitcase at the Milwaukee home of Salahadyn's acquaintance. Police said the homeowner didn't know what was in the luggage stored in his attic.
Experts say it would have been difficult for Salahadyn to sell the instrument, because the remaining 600 to 650 instruments crafted by renowned Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari are well catalogued.
Private collectors often lend Stradivarius violins to top musicians because the instruments deteriorate if left unused, but remain in good condition when regularly played.
During Monday's hearing, Almond described how Salahadyn attended his performances and stalked his family — learning his address and children's names — before finally attacking him in a parking lot in January.
He asked the judge to impose the 10-year maximum prison sentence, noting Salahadyn's long criminal history. Salahadyn 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, he plotted the heist.
Salahadyn's attorney, Richard Hart, said his client was "obsessed" with the violin. He asked for half the maximum sentence, noting Salahadyn chose a stun gun, not a handgun, for the attack.
"He didn't want to get into a situation where he would endanger someone's life," Hart said.
Prosecutor David Robles noted that regardless of the weapon, the crime could have had devastating consequences had Almond had broken an arm when he crumbled to the icy pavement.
Salahadyn also was ordered to serve five years of extended supervision, pay restitution of $4,000 and receive mental health treatment. The judge said Almond was "a gentle man," and the attack would leave the musician "living his life looking over his shoulder."
The owner of the violin has remained anonymous but said in a statement to the court that the instrument was loaned to provide joy to the community and "for it to have been stalked and violently taken is unacceptable."