9 charged in connection with museum thefts

Goshen. Items were stolen from Harness Racing Museum and other museums in New Jersey.

| 12 Jul 2023 | 02:12

Nine men from Pennsylvania have been indicted in connection with thefts from the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame and four other museums in New Jersey, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced on June 15.

Nicholas Dombek, 53, of Thornhurst; Damien Boland, 47, of Moscow; Alfred Atsus, 47, of Covington Township; and Joseph Atsus, 48, of Roaring Brook were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to commit theft of major artwork, concealment or disposal of objects of cultural heritage, and interstate transportation of stolen property.

They also were charged with counts of theft of major artwork and concealment or disposal of objects of cultural heritage while Dombek was charged with a count of interstate transportation of stolen property.

Five others – Thomas Trotta, 48, of Moscow; Frank Tassiello, 50, of Scranton; Daryl Rinker, 50, of Thornhurst; Dawn Trotta, 51, of Covington Township; and Ralph Parry, 45, of Covington Township – were charged by felony informations in the same conspiracy.

U.S. Attorney Gerard Karam said the indictment accuse the nine of conspiring over 20 years to break into multiple museums and other institutions to steal priceless works of art, sports memorabilia, and other objects.

Among the objects taken from the Harness Racing Museum were 14 trophies and other awards worth more than $300,000 stolen in 2012. According to museum executive director Janet Terhune, one of the most notable pieces stolen was a Faberge soup tureen gifted by Tsar Nicholas II to the harness driver CKG Billings in 1912.

In addition to the Harness Racing Museum, Space Farms in Wantage, N.J., Sterling Hill Mining Museum in Ogdensburg, N.J., the Franklin Mineral Museum in Franklin, N.J., and Ringwood Manor also had items stolen.

The indictment notes that after stealing the items, the conspirators allegedly took the stolen goods to northeastern Pennsylvania, often to Dombek’s residence, and melted it into easily transportable metal discs or bars. They then sold the raw metal to people in the New York City area for hundreds or thousands of dollars but significantly less than the stolen items would be worth at fair market value, officials said.

The investigation was conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pennsylvania State Police, New Jersey State Police, New York State Police and New Jersey State Park Police; the Franklin (N.J.), West Milford (N.J.), Montclair (N.J.), Montclair State University and Bernards Township police departments; and Sussex County and Essex County prosecutor’s offices.

Also investigating were the Chester (N.Y.), Village of Goshen (N.Y.), Newport (R.I.), Fargo (N.D.), Wyoming (Pa.) Regional, Scranton (Pa.), Saratoga Springs (N.Y.), Canastota (N.Y.), South Abington (Pa.) and Salisbury Township (Pa.) police departments; Orange County (N.Y.), Lackawanna County (Pa.) and the Madison County (N.Y.) District Attorney’s Office; and Metropolitan Police Department of Washington, D.C.

The maximum penalty under federal law for the conspiracy count is five years in prison and for each of the other offenses is 10 years in prison, a term of supervised release after prison and a fine.

- Additional reporting by Victoria Hoffmann.