A Durango man who pleaded guilty to felony theft for selling stolen photographic prints belonging to a world-renowned photographer best known for his image of “Afghan Girl,” which appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic, will be sentenced next month.
Brandon Donahue, 31, faces four years probation and must pay $58,164 in restitution after signing a plea agreement Dec. 3 with the 6th Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Sentencing is set for May 17 in Durango.
According to court documents, Donahue conspired with Bree DeStephano, a former Pennsylvania art gallery employee, to sell dozens of prints belonging to Steve McCurry, an award-winning photographer.
As an employee of Steve McCurry Studios in Pennsylvania, DeStephano had access to McCurry’s prints, books and other items. She conspired with Donahue, who was manager of Open Shutter Gallery in Durango, to complete the sale of stolen prints, according to a 34-page criminal complaint filed against DeStephano in Chester County, Pa.
The thefts occurred between May 2012 and November 2013.
DeStephano provided Donahue with numerous stolen prints. Donahue would then sell the prints and send DeStephano checks from the proceeds. DeStephano then returned checks to Donahue for half the profit, according to the criminal complaint.
The first recorded example of this occurred May 18, 2012, when Donahue paid DeStephano $4,500 for a 20-inch by 24-inch print of “Afghan Girl.” On May 21, DeStephano wrote a check to Donahue for $2,250, exactly half of the $4,500.
She wrote obscure notes to Donahue at the bottom of her checks to him, including “EVERYTHING!” “Shave ‘n a haircut,” and “Team hair suite partnership.” Text messages between the two showed more coordinated activity, including a discussion about how to store stolen prints and forge McCurry’s autograph.
“Damn we’re cool,” read one text message from Donahue to DeStephano.
In another conversation, DeStephano asked about insuring photographs she had stolen for herself: “I guess I can’t really claim anything if they are in a fire or something,” she texted Donahue. Donahue responded, “well at least it didn’t cost you anything. Except your soul.”
Michael Noone, first assistant district attorney for Chester County in Pennsylvania, said Donahue has been extremely cooperative throughout the investigation.
DeStephano was charged by Chester County authorities with stealing more than 50 art prints valued at $628,000. Restitution has since been downgraded to $214,700. She pleaded guilty last week to three felonies: theft, conspiracy and criminal use of a communication facility. She faces nine to 16 months in jail or prison, based on sentencing guidelines in Pennsylvania. Sentencing is set for June 2.