The former manager of a Durango art studio was sentenced Tuesday to four years probation for his role in stealing and selling photographic prints belonging to a world-renowned photographer best known for his image of “Afghan Girl.”
Brandon Donahue, 31, read a brief statement in which he apologized to Margy Dudley, owner of the Open Shutter Gallery, and promised to repay his debt.
“I have made a mistake that changed my life forever,” Donahue said. “... Mostly, I need to apologize to the Dudleys.”
Donahue pleaded guilty to felony theft and misdemeanor theft. The felony conviction will be wiped from his criminal record in four years if he successfully completes terms of his probation.
In addition to probation, Donahue must complete 48 hours of public service and participate in victim-offender mediation, if the victim wants it.
Donahue conspired with Bree DeStephano, a former Pennsylvania art gallery employee, to sell dozens of prints belonging to Steve McCurry, an award-winning photographer whose photo of “Afghan Girl” appeared on the June 1985 cover of National Geographic.
DeStephano was an employee of Steve McCurry Studios in Pennsylvania, a position that gave her access to McCurry’s prints, books and other items. She doctored the books and asked for reprints to replace photographs she claimed were damaged in shipping, according to court records.
She conspired with Donahue, who was manager of Open Shutter Gallery in Durango, to complete the sale of stolen prints.
The criminal activity occurred between May 2012 and November 2013.
Once Donahue sold a stolen print, he wrote DeStephano a check for half the amount of the sale.
“Damn we’re cool,” he texted her during the criminal enterprise.
But text messages also reveal a moment of introspection. DeStephano asked about insuring stolen photographs she was storing. “I guess I can’t really claim anything if they are in a fire or something,” she texted. Donahue responded: “Well, at least it didn’t cost you anything. Except your soul.”
On Tuesday, Donahue said he wouldn’t compromise his personal ethics again.
His Durango defense attorney, Anthony Savastano, said Donahue took responsibility immediately and cooperated with the investigation, including turning over his text messages and his Google chat account and participating in three extensive interviews with law enforcement.
His willingness to cooperate helped prosecutors in Chester County, Pennsylvania, secure a conviction against DeStephano, Savastano said.
She faces nine to 16 months in jail or prison and must pay $214,700 in restitution after pleading guilty to theft, conspiracy and criminal use of a communications facility. She is scheduled to be sentenced June 2.
Durango lawyer Mike Chapman, who represented Open Shutter Gallery, said the theft cost the gallery much more than the $58,164 in restitution it is seeking. It also cost significant time to identify stolen pieces of art, contact buyers who live around the world, work with police and make amends with Steve McCurry Studios.
He called Donahue’s restitution “a drop in the bucket” compared with the true monetary costs. Margy Dudley cut her trip to Asia short and returned after only three days upon learning of the thefts, according to a letter she wrote that was read aloud Tuesday in court.
She had to go through years of records to identify stolen prints. She worked seven days a week for an entire month to rectify the situation. And Donahue’s actions undermined her trust in leaving employees alone, her letter said.
She trained Donahue and treated him like family, she said.
So far, no money has been repaid.