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Man, woman sentenced for trying to sell stolen Matisse in Miami

MIAMI (Reuters) - A Florida man and a Mexican woman were sentenced to prison terms on Tuesday for trying to sell a stolen painting by French master Henri Matisse a decade after it vanished from a Venezuelan museum, U.S. prosecutors said.

Pedro Antonio Marcuello Guzman, 46, of Miami, was sentenced to 33 months in prison and Maria Martha Elisa Ornelas Lazo, 50, of Mexico City, was sentenced to 21 months in prison, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Miami said in a news release.

The two pleaded guilty in October to charges of conspiracy to transport and sell stolen property.

The painting, a 1925 work known as "Odalisque in Red Pants" (Odalisque a la Culotte Rouge), depicts a topless woman in bright red pants sitting cross-legged on the floor.

Investigators said Marcuello negotiated a deal to sell it to FBI undercover agents for $740,000 and then arranged for Ornelas to fly it to Miami from Mexico.

The FBI arrested the pair at a Miami Beach hotel in July 2012 after they handed over the painting, which the FBI said at the time was valued at nearly $3 million.

The theft of the painting from the Caracas Museum of Contemporary Art has never been solved and it was unclear how Ornelas ended up with it.

Museum officials discovered in December 2002 that the original had been stolen and replaced with a forgery. They were tipped off by an art collector that the painting had been offered for sale in New York, and brought in experts who found flaws in the museum's copy that included a shadow not present in the original.

Matisse, considered one of the painters to revolutionize the art scene in the first half of the 20th-century along with Pablo Picasso, is a popular target of art thieves. The FBI's National Stolen Art File database lists five other Matisse works as missing, including a collection of 62 sketches.

(Reporting by Jane Sutton)

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