Fourth arrest in $1 million mineral museum robbery

Georgetown man held in mining museum heist

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comNovember 14, 2012 

— A fourth suspect was arrested late Tuesday in the Sept. 28 robbery of the California State Mining and Mineral Museum, according to Lt. Dennis Troxell of the California Highway Patrol in Mariposa.

Christopher Scott Sheffield, 42, of Georgetown, was taken into custody on suspicion of two felony charges, including attempted burglary and conspiracy to commit a crime.

He joins three men arrested Tuesday morning in connection with the $1.3 million heist: Edward Rushing III, 40, from El Dorado County; and Matthew Campbell, 43, and Jonathan Matis, 41, both from Sutter County.

All four suspects are facing conspiracy to commit robbery charges, but some are linked to other crimes in Sacramento and Placer counties, authorities said.

Rushing, who's on parole, is also facing drugs charges and isn't eligible for bail, Troxell said. The suspects are being held at the Mariposa County Jail in lieu of $1 million bail each.

The incident occurred Sept. 28 when robbers entered the museum's vault about 4 p.m. after threatening a guide and curator with pickaxes. Authorities said they were dressed in black and wearing hoods to conceal their identities.

In the two-minute robbery during business hours, the men took off with more than $1 million worth of gold and gems by smashing display cases.

According to the CHP, they tried to steal one of the museum's most prized pieces -- a 14-pound gold nugget called the Fricot Nugget -- but the alarm went off before they could break the case.

The heist was captured on the museum's surveillance cameras.

Tuesday's arrests brought a sense of relief to Mariposa residents, many of whom felt personally violated by the brazen robbery and were eagerly awaiting arrests in the case.

Mike Radanovich, 58, was born and raised in Mariposa. His family-owned business, Fremont House, has been in the same downtown location since 1956.

"I'm very happy," he said, taking a deep sigh. "I'm just glad they were caught and it proves to me that people can't just come up here and take advantage of us,"

Radanovich said Mariposa is a safe community where such crimes don't usually happen. "This town means the world to us and we don't have that kind of problem here -- we're proud of that," Radanovich said. "The news of them being caught takes away the fear. I'm very proud of our authorities."

Kathy McCorry, executive director of the Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce, shared Radanovich's sentiment about Mariposa being one of the safest places around.

"The community always considered ourselves to be extremely safe," McCorry said. "In a way, I think the entire community felt violated because it concerned us that it might not be as safe as we previously felt."

McCorry credited the law enforcement agencies involved for the swift action and the perseverance that brought the sense of security back to Mariposa.

Dan Youngren, supervising ranger at state parks department, said the museum reopened on Monday, and the agency is taking additional security measures, including more routine patrols and banning all photography inside the museum.

"Ever since the robbery, everyone has been on edge," Youngren said. "But it's a huge sense of relief. For the small community of Mariposa, justice will be served."

Youngren said the vault remains closed for repairs, and the agency is talking to local vendors about more enhancements.

While some business owners and residents echoed the same relief as others, they want the precious mineral and gems back.

"I'm happy that they've been caught and it's out there that they didn't get away with it, but my concern is that the artifacts are returned," said Daryel Lee Caputo, 52, co-owner the Mariposa Coffee Co. "It's not just the monetary value, it's about the heritage for our children."

Mariposa County Supervisor Kevin Cann's district includes the historic museum, which houses more than 13,000 artifacts dating to the 1800s.

He received a text message from Sheriff Doug Binnewies about the arrests during Tuesday night's board meeting.

After exchanging glances with fellow Supervisor Jim Allen, who received the same message, Cann made the announcement to the room of 30 people. The room erupted as everyone in the audience jumped up and began clapping, Cann said.

"We have a very responsive law enforcement group," Cann noted. "We spend a lot of money on our law enforcement and safety services, and this was an affront to it -- it was an attack to our sense of safety and community."

One of the 30 people clapping in the room was Ron Iudice, the vice president of California State Mining and Mineral Museum Association.

For the last 25 years, the association has supported the museum by funding educational programs and one staff position, and running the gift shop. It helped pay for repairs after the robbery, including broken glass cases and a damaged exit door.

Iudice has been involved with the association for the last 22 years.

"I was devastated that this happened, and the whole community was shocked," Iudice said.

Now people are looking forward to the trial, he said. "That's when justice will be served." Iudice had some parting advice for anyone thinking about targeting Mariposa in the future:

"Don't come to Mariposa to do your crime -- it doesn't pay."

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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