Tuesday, December 7, 2021
Dec. 7, 2021

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Man gets 120 days for his role in Vancouver art theft

More than $300,000 in items stolen from woman with dementia

By , Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

A Portland man was sentenced to jail time Thursday for his role in stealing Native American artwork worth about $320,000 from an elderly Vancouver woman’s home, where his girlfriend worked as an in-home care provider.

John L. Kalamafoni, 23, and Toakase Tovo, 20, stole more than 130 pieces of artwork in 2011 and 2012 from 91-year-old Margaret Sotta, who has dementia. They sold the items to collectors and antiques dealers around the Portland area, according to a court affidavit.

Kalamafoni pleaded guilty to first-degree theft, second-degree possession of stolen property and second-degree trafficking in stolen property. Clark County Superior Court Judge Barbara Johnson sentenced him to 120 days in jail with credit for 32 days served and ordered him to help Tovo pay $78,455 in restitution for the crimes.

Tovo was sentenced last month to 14 months in prison. The couple, who have a child together, are not allowed to have contact with each other. Johnson said they will have to make child care arrangements with a family member.

Sotta’s adult children have said Sotta is completely dependent on caregivers. Her husband, Robert Sotta, was an avid collector of Native American artwork, including pottery, blankets, baskets and statues. He died in 2011, leaving his art collection to his wife.

He had hired private in-home care provider Lavinia’s Home Care and Placement Agency to care for him and his wife 24 hours a day. Owner Lavinia Tovo and members of her family, including her daughter, Toakase Tovo, provided the care, according to the court affidavit. The services were terminated in October 2012.

After the termination, Margaret Sotta’s daughter, Teresa Sotta, noticed that many pieces of the Native American artwork were missing from her mother’s house in Vancouver’s Village at Fisher’s Landing neighborhood.

The Sotta children took inventory and found that at least 108 pieces of artwork valued at about $320,000 were missing from the home.

Investigators found some of the stolen items on an art gallery website, according to the court affidavit. They found a Portland antiques dealer and two Native American art collectors who said they purchased pieces of artwork from people matching the descriptions of Toakase Tovo and her boyfriend, Kalamafoni.

Vancouver police Detective Jane Easter said in the affidavit that she also recovered a stolen statue, which Kalamafoni had allegedly sold to downtown Vancouver’s Accent on Antiques and Collectibles, 1911 Main St.

Lavinia Tovo told The Columbian last month that she didn’t know about the thefts.

“I remember this case quite well for the unique and valuable collection and the exploitation,” Johnson said.

Defense attorney Gerald Wear described Kalamafoni’s involvement in the art theft as a “lesser role” than Toakase Tovo’s. He emphasized that Kalamafoni did not work as Margaret Sotta’s care provider.

Thomas Sotta attended the sentencing and read from the victim impact statement.

“These people used an intimate position of trust in the most deceitful way imaginable to steal the highest value pieces of a collection that was perhaps more valuable sentimentally than monetarily,” he said, pausing when he got choked up. “That collection pretty much defined my father.”

He said that his father told stories about the pieces in his collection and explained why certain pieces were more valuable than others — information that the offenders used to pilfer items.

“I’m sorry to the Sotta family for what I did,” Kalamafoni said before the court. “I didn’t meant to ruin their trust.”

Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith