On Thursday, federal authorities in Scranton, Pennsylvania, released charges against nine people they say were involved in a series of dramatic museum heists. The alleged thieves cased their targeted institutions ahead of time, then returned with walkie-talkies — and occasionally in disguise — to make off with artifacts from championship boxing belts to Fabergé punch bowls, leaving a trail of shattered display cases in their wake. 

Prosecutors announced the defendants had been responsible for the theft of dozens of treasured artifacts over the past 20 years, including Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol paintings, nine of Yogi Berra’s World Series rings, antique firearms, a Tiffany lamp, and more than two dozen trophies, including one from the 1903 Belmont Stakes. The alleged thieves targeted mostly small museums from 1999 to 2019 in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, and North Dakota, prosecutors said, as well as jewelry and antique stores. Most of the burglaries took place after closing time, with thieves smashing doors and display cases before stealing the items and escaping by car. After the thefts, the defendants would allegedly break down and melt the items whenever they could, before selling the artifacts in pieces for a fraction of their value. In one instance, authorities say they burned an 1871 painting by American landscape artist Jasper Crospey worth $500,000 to keep police from finding it. In this manner, they eluded local law enforcement agencies for years.

The defendants, all Pennsylvania residents in their forties and fifties, face charges including theft of major artwork, concealment or disposal of major artwork, and conspiracy to commit those crimes. Some, like an alleged getaway driver or a person who allegedly lent the use of their garage for the others to meet and divvy up or break down stolen items, face a single conspiracy count. Nicholas Dombek, 53, who investigators said has not surrendered and is considered a fugitive, faces 13 counts, including being the only one named in a substantive count of interstate transportation of stolen property for allegedly taking stolen coins and jewelry across state lines. 

Three of the defendants so far have entered pleas, each pleading not guilty. Attorneys for Damien Boland and Alfred Atsus, two of the defendants who have entered pleas, declined to comment on the case at this time. It was unclear whether the other seven defendants had attorneys. 

Charging documents lay out how the defendants are said to have planned and executed the heists: They would start by visiting the targeted museums multiple times, from the Roger Maris Museum in Fargo, North Dakota, to the USGA Golf Museum & Library in Liberty Corner, New Jersey, to the National Racing Museum & Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York. Prosecutors allege they went to get a look at the valuable items they planned to steal and to observe the security measures protecting the objects on display. One time, the charging documents said, a defendant tested the strength of a display case by scratching the glass with a coin.

Later, they’d return after-hours for the theft. In 2005, two defendants allegedly smashed the doors at the Everhart Museum in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and stole Warhol’s Le Grande Passion, valued at over $100,000, and Springs Winter by Pollock. 

Not every burglary had such a high yield. In one 2017 theft, a lone defendant allegedly used a ladder to climb onto the roof of the Franklin Mineral Museum in New Jersey, where he smashed a skylight and entered from above. Once inside, he destroyed display cases using a center punch tool to steal a mere $11,000 worth of gems and minerals.

Sometimes, court records claimed, defendants would use walkie-talkies to communicate during heists. On at least two occasions, they allegedly dressed in disguise. In 2016, according to authorities, a defendant entered the Roger Maris Museum “wearing a fireman’s uniform and carrying an ax.” He smashed display cases and stole the Hickok Belt and MVP trophy awarded to Roger Maris when he was an outfielder for the New York Yankees. The Hickok Belt, awarded yearly to the nation’s top athlete, has a solid gold buckle encrusted with diamonds and gems and is worth around $100,000. 

Another time, two defendants allegedly went to a mining museum in New Jersey where the indictment stated they saw that gold nuggets previously on display had been put away in a safe. One defendant went back during the museum’s business hours, the indictment said, “wearing a painter’s mask and other clothing designed to hide [his] appearance.” He allegedly removed several gold and “other metallic” nuggets from the museum — while it was open — before meeting the other defendant in a car and escaping.

While planning a 2019 diamond theft from a gem museum on Harvard’s campus, one defendant created what charging documents described as a “‘Hasidic’ disguise” for another defendant to wear for the occasion. He even had him over to try the disguise on, court records stated, but on a reconnaissance visit, the defendants saw the diamond was no longer on display and scrapped the mission.

The group would allegedly convene at a bar called Collier’s, in Scranton, owned by Boland. There, they would dismantle the artifacts to make them easier to sell, or melt trophies into metal bars, discs, or pucks, some of which were then sold in New York for $150,000 to $160,000. On one occasion, authorities allege, they rented a torch to use for separating precious metal from rock. While announcing the charges, officials said they believe Berra’s rings were melted. 


Around three years ago, officials said, forensic evidence discovered by a local police department led to the linking of several of the thefts. DNA from blood left behind on broken glass after a 2015 burglary at the International Boxing Hall of Fame was among the evidence used to connect the crimes, according to reporting by the New York Times. Since then, federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies worked together to build the case against the nine Pennsylvania residents who they say burglarized 20 institutions across four states. 

The defendants who entered not guilty pleas have been ordered to surrender their passports and to not leave the state of Pennsylvania. Their trial date has been set for Aug. 21.