As first reported in yesterday's INDsider, former State Farm agent and antiques dealer Wally Romero was arrested Wednesday on a felony theft charge; today the INDsider has learned the 51-year-old admitted to selling Delores Zimmerman's original George Rodrigue painting for $25,000 and keeping the money to pay his personal debts.
According to records from District Attorney Mike Harson's office, Zimmerman reported to the Lafayette Police Department in late July of this year that Romero offered to sell the painting as a friend and was not going to earn a commission from it. In 2006 she brought the painting to Romero's South College Road insurance office, where he also operated his antiques business, and he sold it within a month (the name of the alleged buyer was redacted from the public record).
In the affidavit for warrant of arrest, police say they met with Romero at his home on Aug. 7 of this year and he admitted to selling the painting -- described by Zimmerman as an original Jolie Blonde with a red rose -- and keeping the money to pay his personal debts. During that same Aug. 7 meeting, Romero agreed to pay Zimmerman the $25,000 by Sept. 1 of this year. As of Sept. 8, Romero had not paid Zimmerman a dime.
"It's pretty clear cut," says Assistant DA Keith Stutes, who is prosecuting the case. Stutes says his office has been fielding numerous phone calls since word of the arrest broke. "I've been very busy this morning with phone calls," he says, declining to elaborate on the nature of those calls.
About a week before his $25,000 debt was to be paid, Romero filed Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection, according to U.S. Bankruptcy Court records. Often called a "mini Chapter 11," Chapter 13 is for individuals or small proprietary business owners who want to repay their creditors but are having financial problems. Romero will be able to retain his personal property if he repays all or a portion of his debts to creditors under a plan approved by the court.
Romero's South College Road State Farm office was abruptly shut down in September of last year by the company, but State Farm would not comment on the matter. He had been a successful agent for about two decades, in large part due to his affable personality.