By Mary Thurwachter
No stranger to “employee of the quarter” awards from the Lantana Police Department, Officer Edward Tavcar made another appearance at the Town Council’s Oct. 24 meeting. This time, he was recognized for his diligence in investigating a theft incident that resulted in the recovery of about $15 million in paintings, statues and relics.
“I appreciate all of them (awards), but this one is kind of special,” Tavcar said after Chief Sean Scheller recognized him. “This wasn’t a one-man show. There were a lot of moving parts and there was a lot of cooperation. It was really a team effort between 20 or more law enforcement officers from Lantana and PBSO.”
“The case,” Tavcar said later, “was like a movie. How did little Lantana ever get involved in something like this?”
The case involved millions of dollars of artwork, a scorned lover, days of surveillance, lots of police and a couple of New York lawyers.
At the end of October the victim’s lawyers were still in the process of identifying the stolen artwork, 99 percent of which had been recovered, Tavcar said.
According to Tavcar, on Sept. 20, Hypoluxo Island homeowner Nicholas Zoullas told police his ex-girlfriend, Stacy Cliett, 43, had stolen “millions in artwork, relics and statues” from his home.
Two days later, Zoullas’ lawyers met with Cliett and her friend Todd Stephens, 52. The two told police they had to take the art away from Zoullas’ home (where Cliett still resided) because of a mold problem in the house. But they refused to reveal where the artwork had been taken.
“We found out the mold had already been mitigated during the summer,” Tavcar said.
A private investigator contacted police a few days later to tell them the couple used a Lake Worth warehouse to store the artwork. Police said surveillance observed Cliett and Stephens loading artwork into a Lexus. When confronted by police at a gas station later, Stephens told police he was just helping Cliett move the artwork.
After securing a search warrant for the warehouse, police found much of the missing artwork and crates bearing shipping labels with Zoullas’ name on them.
Cliett and Stephens were arrested and face grand theft charges. Both bonded out of jail. Stephens, police records show, was out on bond for a separate money laundering case.
In other Lantana news last month, the Town Council approved a Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program grant application to the state for construction of a recreation center picnic pavilion.
The project would include a roof, flooring, picnic tables and lights at a cost of $148,000. Lantana would need to provide a 25 percent match of $37,000.
The pavilion would replace the old shuffleboard courts at the Recreation Center. If the state awards the grant, construction would take place next year.
By Mary Thurwachter