MILWAUKEE — A man accused of masterminding the theft of a $5 million Stradivarius violin pleaded guilty to robbery Friday, 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, 42, was taken into custody after changing his plea during a hearing in Milwaukee County court. He could face more than a decade 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 stored in his attic.
Court documents say 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 involvement 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, he plotted the theft.
The other man charged in the violin case, Universal K. Allah, was sentenced to 3 ½ 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 concertmaster Frank Almond.
Almond was shocked with a 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.
Experts estimate that 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.
Salahadyn pleaded guilty Friday to a charge negotiated after his arrest and as police were seeking his help in finding the instrument. A condition of the deal was that the violin was found undamaged. He could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison with another five years of extended supervision.
Salahadyn was immediately taken into custody because a prosecutor raised concerns that he had given police reports containing private information about Almond to a journalist. Salahadyn denied the accusation, but Judge Dennis Moroney said public safety was an overriding concern.
"I'm not going to take a chance on Mr. Almond having anyone further have contact with him," Moroney said.
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