The Curious Case of SpongeBob SquarePants Illustrator Todd White, Three Ninjas, and an Art Caper

From Vanity Fair:

Artist Todd White seemingly had it all. With a multi-million-dollar art brand, collectors and clients ranging from Sylvester Stallone to Coca-Cola, and a burgeoning reputation in art-mad Britain, his days as lead character designer of SpongeBob SquarePants were but a distant memory. But, as David Kushner reports, when his confidante and gallerist Peggy Howell reported a burglary of his paintings at the hand of ninjas, things took a turn for the even stranger.

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The ninjas arrived at six. Peggy Howell, the stylish blonde 62-year-old owner of Gallery HB, a bright courtyard shop at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach hotel, was alone. A surf song played from the ceiling speakers. Yellow glass cichlids sparkled in the light.

But the three “martial-arts experts” towering over Howell, as she would later tell it, weren’t interested in buying a “Greetings from Surf City” lithograph or a psychedelic Peter Max. One of them shoved her into a chair in her tiny back office, while another blocked the front door, she claims. “Are there any video cameras in this gallery?” she says he asked.

“Yes,” Howell said, fearfully.

“Well, make sure that they’re turned off,” he snapped. And if she didn’t do exactly what they wanted, he growled, “your life will not be the same as you know it.”

Two hours later, the gang exited the gallery, with Howell in tow and, she later estimated, more than $1 million worth of work by Howell’s favorite and most valuable artist: Todd White, a scruffy 42-year-old Texan famed for his lounge-lizard paintings, and for his work as the lead character designer for SpongeBob SquarePants.

But, as Howell told police the following day in her statement, the mastermind behind one of Orange County’s biggest art heists was no ordinary thief. It was the artist himself: Todd White. It was all part of an elaborate plot to frame Howell, steal back works she had rightfully bought, and take over her lucrative gallery, she insisted. White had hired “goons” she said, from his martial-arts club to do his dirty work: imprisoning and assaulting her in her own gallery.

“Despite White’s string of professional successes,” Howell later claimed, “his true nature was revealed on the night of August 2, 2011, when he orchestrated a malicious and brutal assault and robbery against the very woman who helped him launch his career in studio art.”

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