Orange County Man Charged with Scheming to Steal High-End Violins and Later Robbing a Bank Branch in Irvine

LOS ANGELES An Irvine man has been charged in a federal criminal complaint for allegedly orchestrating a scheme to steal high-value violins and then allegedly robbing a bank in Orange County, the Justice Department announced today.

Mark Meng, 57, is charged with bank robbery and wire fraud in a complaint filed on May 7. He has been in state custody since April 11 and is expected to make his initial appearance in United States District Court on May 9.

According to an affidavit filed with the complaint, Meng engaged in a scheme to steal high-end violins and then resell them for his personal gain. The stolen violins included:

  • one Lorenzo Ventapane violin, dated 1823, and valued at $175,000; a
  • one Guilio Degani violin, dated 1903, and valued at $55,000;
  • one Caressa & Francais violin, dated 1913, and valued at $40,000;
  • one Gand & Bernardel violin, dated 1870, and valued at $60,000; and
  • one Francais Lott violin bow, stamped “Lupot,” and valued at $7,500.

Meng allegedly contacted violin shops across the country to express interest in receiving violins on loan for a trial period to determine if he wished to purchase the instruments. He allegedly gained the trust of these stores by representing himself as a collector, and in some cases, he purchased violin bows before asking for violin trial periods. After receiving each violin on a trial-period basis, Meng kept the violins and ultimately sold them to a violin dealer in Los Angeles who was unaware of their stolen origin.

After Meng knew he was under investigation by the FBI for the stolen violins, Meng on April 2 allegedly entered a bank branch in Irvine, wearing a hat, sunglasses, a bandana covering his face, and blue latex gloves. Meng allegedly gave the bank teller a note stating “$18,000. – Withdraw. Please. Stay Cool! No harm. Thx.” After obtaining money from the bank teller, Meng fled the bank in his white minivan, according to the complaint.

Law enforcement personnel determined that a latent print from the robbery note was identified as belonging to Meng, the affidavit states. Officers ultimately tracked the minivan back to Meng’s house where Meng was arrested several days later.

A complaint is merely an allegation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

If convicted, Meng would face a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison on both the bank robbery count and the wire fraud count.

The FBI’s Art Crime Team investigated this matter, with assistance from the Irvine Police Department and the Glendale Police Department.

            Assistant United States Attorneys Laura Alexander and Mark A. Williams, both of the Environmental Crimes and Consumer Protection Section, are prosecuting this case.


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