A San Francisco man who police say swiped dozens of expensive artworks worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from local galleries and stashed them in his Tenderloin apartment will stand trial on 28 felony counts, a judge ruled today.
Terry Helbing, 53, was arrested June 1 after allegedly purloining 40 paintings and prints worth $15,000 from the San Francisco Botanical Garden’s horticulture library.
Police later recovered dozens more artworks, mostly paintings, packed into Helbing’s miniscule residential hotel room in the 400 block of Ellis Street.
The items were traced to thefts at 11 other galleries as far back as 2004, prosecutors said.
Additionally, Helbing allegedly had in his possession a skull stolen from the California Academy of Sciences.
The total value of the thefts has been estimated at close to $200,000, according to prosecutors.
At the conclusion of a preliminary hearing this morning in San Francisco Superior Court, Judge Cynthia Ming-Mei Lee held Helbing to answer on 28 felony counts, including grand theft, receiving stolen property and burglary of the horticulture library.
Several other counts related to burglaries at the other galleries were discharged due to insufficient evidence.
Helbing’s attorney Kenneth Quigley told Lee that his client has mental health issues and an IQ of 66.
Quigley maintained that Helbing was “not in the business” of stealing art. Lee disagreed.
“He simply has good taste, your honor,” Quigley said.
Helbing remains in custody on $100,000 bail and is due back in court for arraignment on Aug. 27.