Fifth suspect in Mariposa museum robbery sentenced

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comDecember 11, 2013 

— The fifth man convicted in the $1.3 million robbery of the California State Mining and Mineral Museum last year was sentenced Tuesday in Mariposa Superior Court.

Judge Wayne Parrish handed down a sentence of five years and four months in state prison to Christopher Scott Sheffield of Georgetown. He faced two felony charges, including attempted burglary and conspiracy to commit a crime.

Sheffield, 44, is one of five men accused in the brazen Sept. 28, 2012, robbery. Officers also arrested Michael Anthony Gomes, 45, of Citrus Heights, Edward Rushing III, 43, from El Dorado County; and Matthew Campbell, 45, and Jonathan Matis, 43, both from Sutter County.

The heist occurred when the men 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 robbers took off with more than $1 million worth of gold and gems by smashing display cases.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the agency that investigated the case, the men 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 other four men will also serve time in prison, according to the Mariposa County District Attorney’s office. Rushing was sentenced to 15 years, Matis will serve six years, Campbell received less than one year and Gomes was sentenced to five years and four months.

Sheffield could have gotten more time behind bars, but Mariposa County District Attorney Thomas K. Cooke said Wednesday the sentence was appropriate because Sheffield cooperated with authorities.

“Without him, we wouldn’t have cracked the case,” Cooke said. “He had a criminal record but because he was willing to testify, we gave him as much as we could.”

Sheffield’s attorney, Eugene Action, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Cooke said Rushing got the stiffest sentence out of the group because prosecutors believe he masterminded the plan to rob the historic museum.

“It appeared to us he was probably the ringleader,” Cooke said, noting that he faced more than 20 years in prison. “I think everybody was held accountable and the mastermind was given a good amount of time in prison.”

Investigators haven’t elaborated specifically on what was taken during the robbery, but Cooke said most of the precious specimens haven’t been recovered.

Gomes testified in April that the stolen minerals were smashed on a table and the gold was split among the men. Gomes said he got $4,000 worth of gold, which he sold to a pawn shop.

Some of the stolen items, including a bag of ground-up quartz, were recovered during the investigation, according to reports. Rushing’s attorney, C. Logan McKechnie, said in April the gold was worth about $12,000 and was sold to pawn shops and dealers.

Cooke said Wednesday that some of the gems were recovered from Gomes, but not nearly enough to replace everything that was lost.

“Unfortunately we were not able to recover much of the stolen property,” he said. “The value of the property was substantial and people have lost specimens that can never be replaced. That’s the real tragedy here.”

The museum, which is operated by the California Department of Parks and Recreation, is home to more than 13,000 artifacts dating back to the 1800s.

All five suspects are scheduled for a restitution hearing at 1:30 p.m. Feb. 18 in Mariposa, where they will be held liable for the cost of the stolen items.

Sun-Star staff writer Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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