November 13, 2012

Three men arrested in Mariposa Mining and Mineral Museum robbery

Three men were arrested Tuesday in the September heist at the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa, where more than $1 million of gold and precious gems were stolen.

Edward Rushing III, 40, from El Dorado County, Matthew Campbell, 43, and Jonathan Matis, 41, both from Sutter County, were arrested for conspiracy to commit robbery and held at the Mariposa County Jail on Tuesday.

Lt. Dennis Troxell, commander of CHP's Mariposa office, said the arrests came after a long and thorough investigation, including following dozens of leads.

"Many search warrants were conducted, and we basically had to follow every lead," Troxell said Tuesday evening. "The investigation is still ongoing, so there might be additional suspects."

Troxell would not comment on whether the stolen minerals, mostly gold, were recovered.

In addition to conspiracy to commit robbery charges, the suspects were linked to other crimes in Sacramento and Placer counties, authorities said.

Rushing's included drugs charges, in connection to drugs found during one of the search warrants. Matis was arrested on suspicion of armed robbery, vehicle theft and vandalism. One of the suspects is also on parole, Troxell said.

Troxell noted Tuesday's arrests brought some relief to Mariposa, which is deeply connected to the museum's rich heritage.

"I believe it's a big win for the community of Mariposa County," Troxell said. "We received a lot of inquiries, but for the most part, people were patient. But the investigation is ongoing, and we're looking into different aspects of it."

The California State Mining and Mineral Museum reopened its doors Monday after being closed for nearly two months. The downtime was used to make repairs to the damaged display cases, doors and other items.

Dressed in black and wearing hoods to conceal their identities, the robbers entered the museum's vault about 4 p.m. Sept. 28. after threatening a guide and curator with pickaxes.

During their two-minute heist, the thieves took off with more than $1 million worth of artifacts, but could not steal one of the museum's most prized pieces -- a 14-pound gold nugget called the Fricot Nugget -- because of its weight.

According to the CHP, the suspects smashed display cases to steal the gold and gems during business hours. The heist was captured on the museum's surveillance cameras.

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

The CHP has jurisdiction for investigating crimes on state property.

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

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