Stolen Italian statue found in North Carolina

A 350-year-old statue disappeared from a Naples church in an elaborate heist of artifacts nearly two decades ago.

Italian officials said they lost a national treasure.

The intricately carved bust of St. Innocent traveled from Italy to France – losing its head in the journey – before finding its way to the private home of a Charlotte couple, where it was seized by federal officials.

It will be returned to Italy this month, federal officials announced Thursday.

"I've never heard of this happening anywhere other than some big-time story in New York," said Neal Johnson, the Charlotte dealer who purchased the item from a Greensboro dealer and then sold it to the Charlotte couple. "You don't always know the lineage of pieces you buy."

The bust, by 17th-century Franciscan artist Diego da Careri, is made of wood and painted gold. It was part of a set of busts displayed at the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli alle Croci.

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