The stunning details of museum heists that emerged late last week revealed the arrests of nine people and the ongoing hunt for a tenth man in connection with the loss of millions of dollars worth of items from the careers of several late, great athletes. Yogi Berra’s championship rings, Roger Maris’ MVP award and Hickok belt, a Christy Mathewson jersey and contracts and title belts from legendary boxers of long ago all mysteriously vanished after they were stolen. It turns out many of them were destroyed.
While burglary suspects typically look to sell their stolen goods, FBI agents and law enforcement officers from several states learned that the Berra and Maris memorabilia and the belts from boxing legends Tony Zale and Carmen Basilio are believed to have all been melted down and sold for scrap at a fraction of their value.
SC Daily has reviewed the federal indictments that reveal some of the details about what investigators have learned about those thefts.
While the indictment identifies some of those involves simply as numbered “conspirators,” the Scranton Times-Tribune reported that two of those unnamed in the documents were Thomas Trotta, age 48, and Dawn Trotta, age 51.
Here’s some of what’s revealed in the 62-page indictment filed in U.S. District Court in Scranton, PA:
- Members of the group made trips to the museums and facilities where they were located to gain information about access and exit points, security and the physical displays where the memorabilia was housed, often recording their visits so the information could be reviewed as they planned the burglaries
- Suspects used walkie talkies to communicate during their August 1999 thefts of Mathewson memorabilia from Keystone College in Factoryville, PA. They broke display cases to steal Mathewson’s 1906 New York Giants jersey and his signed contracts from 1902 (NY Giants) and 1916 (as Cincinnati Reds manager). Accused conspirators Thomas Trotta and Joseph Atsus entered the building where the items were stored and stole them. The uniform and contracts were stored at Joseph Atsus’ grandmother’s house in Pennsylvania for awhile before they were moved to a New Jersey home owned by he and Alfred Atsus.
According to the charging documents, surveillance trips were made to the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center in New Jersey. On October 15, 2014, Atsus and Trotter drove to the museum from Pennsylvania where Trotta broke in and stole Berra’s nine World Series rings, seven other Berra rings and his two MVP plaques that were on display, ran out to Atsus in a getaway car and drive to Dawn Trotta’s home in Pennsylvania. The next day, they took the items to accused co-conspirator Nicholas Dombek who pried the gemstones out of the rings and melted the rings and plaques into metal bars. The items–worth seven figures in the memorabilia market–were sold for $10,300 in cash. The indictment says Dombek was paid $2,500 for his work and Trotta paid Atsus $1,700 for driving the getaway car. The proceeds from the melted down memorabilia were then divided among the group. According to U.S. Attorney Gerard Karam, Dombek remains a fugitive.
- In November of 2015, the indictment says Damien Boland drove Thomas Trotta to the International Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum in Canastota, NY. Trotta entered the building, smashed display cases with an ax and removed six championship belts–four awarded to former champion Carmen Basilio and two earned by former great Tony Zale. The two suspects then drove to Dombek’s home, where he removed the precious stones that decorated the belts and then once again melted down the usable elements, selling them in New York City for about $400.
- After suspect Dawn Trotta rented a car for Damien Boland and Thomas Trotta, the two men drove to the Roger Maris Museum at the West Acres Mall in Fargo, ND in July of 2016. Trotta entered the mall wearing a fireman’s uniform provided to him by Dombek, ran to display cases and using a cordless grinder, smashed them open, stole the trophy and belt and ran back to the getaway car driven by Boland. The two stopped a few miles from the mall to remove the stolen license plates that had been applied to their vehicle. Back home in Pennsylvania, the metal Hickok belt was cut in half inside Collier’s Bar in Scranton. Court papers say the gemstones were later removed from the belt by Dombek and both the trophy and belt material were melted down and taken to New York City where they were sold for cash.
Other sports related burglaries listed in the indictment and items stolen included:
- The U.S. Amateur Trophy and a Hickok Belt awarded to Ben Hogan, stolen in 2012 from the USGA Golf Museum & Library, Liberty Corner, New Jersey;
- 14 trophies and other awards worth over $300,000 stolen in 2012 from the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame, Goshen, New York;
- Five trophies worth over $400,000, including the 1903 Belmont Stakes Trophy, stolen in 2013 from the National Racing Museum & Hall of Fame, Saratoga Springs, New York.
- Eleven trophies, including 4 awarded to Art Wall, Jr. stolen in 2011 from the Scranton Country Club, Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania
Many of those items are also believed to have been melted down and sold, including the 1903 Belmont Trophy and others from the 2013 theft which netted the group $150,000-$160,000 and the Hogan trophy and belt which they melted and sold for $130,000 to $140,000.
The last burglary listed in the indictment took place in 2019.