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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Milwaukee man pleads guilty to providing stun gun in theft of $5 million Stradivarius violin

MILWAUKEE - A man pleaded guilty Wednesday to providing the stun gun used to rob a concert master of a $5 million Stradivarius violin.

Universal K. Allah, 36, faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine when he's sentenced in late July.

Allah provided the stun gun used to attack and rob a violin concert master in January, according to the criminal complaint. The concert master dropped the instrument, and the robber grabbed it, jumped into a waiting vehicle and fled.

Allah told investigators the thief was 42-year-old Salah Salahadyn, a Milwaukee man who previously served prison time following the theft of a $25,000 statue. Salahadyn had also been heard talking about stealing high-end art, and said his "dream theft" was to snatch a Stradivarius violin because of its potential value and because it could be taken from a musician walking down the street, a confidential source told police.

Salahadyn is also charged with being a party to felony robbery. He pleaded not guilty in February, but his attorney has requested another plea date. A second plea hearing typically would not be scheduled unless the accused person was considering changing a plea. That hearing is set for June 30.

The 300-year-old violin, which has been appraised for insurance purposes at $5 million, was missing for nine days before police recovered it in good condition. It was found in a suitcase in the attic of a Milwaukee home where Salahadyn's acquaintances lived, although police said the homeowner didn't know what was in the suitcase.

Allah's defence attorney, Paul Ksicinski, didn't immediately return a message Wednesday. The criminal complaint says Allah wasn't at the scene of the robbery, Ksicinski has said.

Many Stradivarius violins, crafted by renowned Italian luthier Antonio Stradivari, are owned by private collectors who lend them to top violinists to be played in symphonies. Experts say a Stradivarius violin degrades with disuse but remains in good condition when played regularly.

Experts estimate 600 to 650 Stradivarius instruments remain — about half of what the master produced — and they can be worth millions of dollars each.

Violin thefts are rare, perhaps because thieves know the instruments would be hard to sell. Experts say high-value instruments are almost always well-documented with photographs and easily identified, even if they're being sold halfway around the world.

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Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde@ap.org.

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