sfpd_arrestcuffs.jpgA San Francisco man suspected of pilfering valued artworks from a variety of victims, including the San Francisco Botanical Garden’s horticulture library, was charged today with burglary, possessing stolen property and grand theft.

Terry Helbing, 53, is expected to be arraigned on the charges Friday morning in San Francisco Superior Court, according to district attorney’s office spokeswoman Erica Derryck.

Helbing is charged with one count of burglary, two counts of possessing stolen property and one count of grand theft, specifically in connection with 40 paintings and prints valued at $15,000 that were allegedly stolen from the Botanical Garden weeks ago.

Police say they’ve recovered at least 100 artworks–oil paintings, prints, sculptures, rugs and vases–worth in excess of $100,000 from Helbing’s tiny residential hotel room in the 400 block of Ellis Street, and are trying to identify to whom they belong.

There are a minimum six known victims, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said.
Helbing was arrested Tuesday night after staff at the Botanical Garden, where he was apparently a frequent visitor, notified police.

San Francisco Botanical Garden Society Executive Director Michael McKechnie said Wednesday that staff had been suspicious of Helbing “for some time” and that Helbing had spoken to employees there about his art collection.

Helbing was known to frequent the garden and attend art openings and horticulture meetings there.

McKechnie said Helbing is believed to have walked off with two 100-year-old paintings, five paintings by local artists and 33 prints in late April.

“He seemed to have a passion for art,” McKechnie said.

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