Champaign man gets conditional discharge over stolen art

URBANA — A 57-year-old Champaign man who admitted he had part of a piece of public art last spring has been sentenced to a year of conditional discharge and ordered to pay restitution to the Public Art League.

Thomas McNeal, who listed an address in the 1100 block of North Champaign Street, recently pleaded guilty before Judge Heidi Ladd to misdemeanor theft of mislaid or lost property.

Assistant State's Attorney Scott Bennett said McNeal admitted that he had found a piece of a sculpture called "Sky Catcher III" near a parking lot of a business on First Street near Springfield Avenue in Champaign in May.

In mid-May, the piece of art at First and Chester streets was discovered dismantled. The treasurer for the Public Art League went to local scrap yards and found pieces of it at Marco Steel.

Police were led to McNeal, who was charged in mid-May with felony theft.

Bennett said McNeal said he found part of the sculpture and admitted trying to sell it, but no one could testify that he actually stole the piece.

Bennett said the $207 restitution McNeal was ordered to pay represents the amount the art league had to pay the artist from the time of the theft until the end of the two-year lease on the piece.

Bennett said all pieces of the artwork were recovered and will be returned to the artist once the 30-day appeal period for McNeal has expired.

In other recent court cases:

— Daniel Bozarth, 33, of Paxton was resentenced to four years in prison for robbery and domestic battery.

Bozarth had been sentenced in June 2011 to two years of probation after pleading guilty to striking his mother and robbing her of cash in January 2011.

Bozarth admitted that he violated his probation by failing to cooperate with drug treatment and by continuing to use crack cocaine, said Assistant State's Attorney Chris Kanis.

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auntsonyas wrote on August 14, 2012 at 3:08 pm

A fair decision. Why are the cities leasing art for the masses, when the masses still can't afford to feed their children? The Public Art League should take a field trip to the sculpture at the corner of Bradley and Mattis, and consider distributing cases of macaroni & cheese to enrich the lives of the masses, instead of renting sculptures. That would be a much wiser use of their time and resources.

rch wrote on August 14, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Beautification is an important part of building a community we can be proud of. It is foolish to believe that we should wait until everyone in our community is "well-off" before investing in the arts. There are many, many community service agencies and church food pantries, as well as government assistance, available to meet the needs of families who have fallen on hard times. There is something called The Help Book if you need help locating one. By the way, the article states that the Public Art League (a nonprofit organization) pays money to the artist to rent the sculpture; the city is not paying anyone. So, the money is being reinvested in our community anyway. Artists need to feed their families, too, you know. And I agree, it seems like a fair sentence since it could not be proven that he stole the metal.