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Six charged in safe case - so far

May 30, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Five people have been charged with sharing the contents of a stolen safe that police say contained a Mercersburg, Pa., man's lifetime accumulation of wealth.

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Another man is charged with accepting several thousand dollars and a bag of rare coins from the safe to cut it open.

On Tuesday, police in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, who have been working together on the case, said they expect to make other arrests shortly.

"Before the end of the week, we should have this wrapped up," Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Matthew Gordon said Tuesday.

Police said the contents of the safe were worth an estimated $1.57 million.

One of the defendants - Eric Currier, 24, of Martinsburg - is being held in jail in Gwinnett County, Georgia, as a fugitive from justice, Gordon said.

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Two others - Currier's younger brother, Kristopher Joseph Currier, 20, of 568 Rock Cliff Drive in Martinsburg; and Charles William Decker, 19, of Route 3, Box 67D, Martinsburg - were in the Eastern Regional Jail Tuesday on $50,000 bail. Corporal Bob Buracker of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department said they were awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania.

Gordon alleged that Eric Currier; Kristopher Currier; Decker; Bruce Lee Albright, 20, of Martinsburg; and John Bigiarelli, 21, of Martinsburg, split up the contents of the safe.

The safe was stolen from F. Martin Lininger's office in Mercersburg, Pa., on March 27. Gordon said the safe contained $180,000 in cash, antique jewelry, stock certificates, bonds and old coins.

Lininger, a retired funeral home director, said the safe had been in his family's office for about 75 years. That March weekend, thieves wheeled the safe out the door and into an alley, where it was loaded into a vehicle and driven away, police said.

Gordon would not explain how the culprits might have known about the safe, but he said they did not stumble upon it by accident.

The money itself has not been recovered, but police have seized some of the merchandise for which money from the safe was allegedly spent. Gordon said about $25,000 was used to buy a Jeep, a pickup truck and a car, all used, as well as a new motorcycle and a stereo.

Buracker alleged that Mark A. Ortega, 22, also known as Mark Peterson, of Box 1269, Shepherdstown, W.Va., open the safe with a diamond-tipped saw. In exchange, Ortega received some of the cash, Buracker alleged.

There have been conflicting statements about whether he received $5,000 or $10,000, Buracker said.

In addition, police recovered about $1,000 worth of silver coins from Ortega, Buracker and Gordon alleged. Buracker said the coins were stored in a safe deposit box in Jefferson County.

From Kristopher Currier, police recovered a $2 bill, a $5 silver certificate and a 100-note Deutsche mark, all from the 1920s, Buracker alleged.

The stock certificates, bonds, deeds and tax records - items Lininger said he was more worried about than the cash - are apparently gone. Gordon said the papers were destroyed along with the safe after it was opened. He alleged it was opened at Bigiarelli's Rock Cliff Drive house.

Gordon said Kristopher Currier, Decker, Albright and Eric Currier have been charged in Pennsylvania with burglary, receiving stolen property, theft and criminal trespass.

Berkeley County charges against Kristopher Currier and Decker are being dropped so they can face the Pennsylvania charges instead. They will be extradited "within the next week," according to Gordon.

Eric Currier will be returned back to Pennsylvania for charges there.

Neither Bigiarelli, who has been charged with theft and receiving stolen property, nor Albright have been arraigned, Gordon said.

A preliminary hearing for Ortega, who was free on $20,000 bail, was scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. However, because sewer pipes at Berkeley County Magistrate Court were backed up, Ortega's hearing and those of others were postponed, according to Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Groh.

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