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Stolen Rembrandt found in pastor's office

A Los Angeles County sheriff's official confirmed Tuesday that deputies recovered a stolen Rembrandt from the pastor's office of an Episcopal church in the San Fernando Valley.

The sketch stolen Saturday night from the Ritz-Carlton in Marina del Rey was recovered Monday night from Saint Nicholas Episcopal Church in Encino, sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said.

Investigators were still trying to determine how it found its way into the office of the Rev. Michael Cooper and to verify whether it is an authentic Rembrandt. Cooper referred questions to Whitmore.

The sketch, "The Judgment," was recovered after authorities received a tip Monday evening that someone had seen the artwork on church property.

Deputies went to the church and recovered the drawing, which was positively identified by its owners, the Linearis Institute, Whitmore said.

The thieves apparently tore open the brown paper covering the back of the frame, intending to remove the mounted sketch, but then got cold feet.

"They realized that it's going to be very hard to sell" because of the publicity and might not have had the know-how and connections to sell the sketch, Detective Clarence Williams said. "It doesn't appear to be damaged or touched."

It was abandoned, "we believe, because there was so much publicity," Whitmore said. "How do you sell it? What do you do with it?"

No one has been arrested in connection with the theft, he said. "We have the Rembrandt at the station evidence lockup. We are now seeking to authenticate it is a Rembrandt with other sources," he said.

Whitmore said detectives still plan to release a sketch and images of a person involved in the "well-thought-out, well-executed theft."

The 11-inch-by-6-inch quill pen-and-ink work dating to about 1655 was part of an exhibition staged by the Linearis Institute and is believed to be worth $250,000.

The artwork was stolen when a curator told investigators he was distracted by a guest. "When the curator turned back to the Rembrandt, it was gone," Whitmore said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.