Precious Metals

Four men await trial in theft of mining museum gold, gems

Four men are awaiting trial dates for their part in the Sept. 28 theft of $1.3 million worth of gold and gems from the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa, Calif.

Matthew S. Campbell, 43, from Sacramento County; Jonathan E. Matis, 41, from Sutter County; Edward R. Rushing III, 40, from El Dorado County; and Christopher S. Sheffield, 42, from Georgetown, Calif., were arraigned Nov. 19 and 20 in Mariposa County Superior Court.

All four men received court-appointed attorneys and entered not guilty pleas, according to the office of Mariposa County District Attorney Thomas K. Cooke.

All defendants were returned to the Mariposa County Jail on $1 million bond each.

A Dec. 12 pre-preliminary conference has been set. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2013.

In response to a question about recovery of the stolen items, Cooke’s office said it “cannot make any comments, as there is still an on-going investigation.”

The broad daylight robbery at the museum, located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Yosemite National Park, occurred Oct. 28.

The museum housed a 132-year-old collection of gold nuggets and mineral specimens.

Display cases, doors and other items were damaged by two men wielding pickaxes. Two female employees were at the museum at the time of the robbery but neither one was injured.

Surveillance cameras showed two male suspects, dressed head to toe in black, wearing masks and possibly night vision goggles and carrying pickaxes.

The mining museum was reopened Nov. 9.

The 13.8-pound Fricot nugget of crystalline gold — one of the museum’s treasures — was not taken though an attempt was made to enter the vault where the giant nugget was kept. That attempt triggered an alarm and the two suspects fled the scene.

The Fricot nugget is the largest intact mass of crystalline gold remaining from the gold rush era. The nugget was unearthed from the American River in northern California during the gold rush era.

The mineral collection on display in Mariposa dates back to 1880 and contained more than 13,000 objects including mining artifacts, rare specimens of crystalline gold in its many forms, and gem and mineral specimens from California and around the world.

The collection was moved to Mariposa in 1983 after being on display in San Francisco for more than 100 years. The Mariposa museum became a state park in 1999. ¦

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