Seventh person charged in $1.57 million safe theft

June 18, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Pennsylvania State Police have charged a seventh person in connection with the theft of a safe that contained $1.57 million in cash and valuables.

On Tuesday, Pennsylvania State Police charged 21-year-old Jeremiah Chambers with burglary, theft, receiving stolen property and criminal trespass, Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Matthew Gordon said.

The safe, which belonged to retired funeral director F. Martin Lininger, contained $1.57 million in cash, jewelry, old coins, stock certificates and personal papers, according to police. Included in that amount was $208,000 in cash, Gordon said.

The safe was taken from Lininger's Mercersburg office on the morning of March 27.

Three of those charged in the crime are in jail. Three others are free on bail and one has an appearance ticket.


Cpl. Robert Buracker of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department said more people might be charged.

During a preliminary hearing and in separate interviews, investigators alleged that a man who rented a Mercersburg house from Lininger took $28,000 from the safe two months before the safe was stolen, then continued to live at the house and pay rent.

Police said that when the safe, which weighed more than 700 pounds, was stolen in March, four men tried to drive away with it in a small car, but went about a mile before they gave up and got a friend with a truck.

"There are a couple more people involved that might be charged," said Cpl. Robert Buracker of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department. "They received some of the proceeds (from the safe)."

A preliminary hearing was held Wednesday in Berkeley County Magistrate Court for Mark A. Ortega, 22, of Shepherdstown, W.Va., who is charged with accepting several thousand dollars to cut open the safe.

Magistrate Sandra Miller ruled that there was probable cause for the case to be sent to Circuit Court for consideration by a grand jury.

Gordon said Chambers, and his girlfriend, who has not been charged, lived in the house where Lininger's safe was.

In January, Lininger left the safe open and $28,000 was taken, Gordon alleged.

Chambers, who is free on $5,000 bond, has since moved to Berkeley County, according to Gordon.

Ortega is the only one facing charges in West Virginia.

Four others - Eric Currier, 24; Kristopher Joseph Currier, 20; Charles William Decker, 19; and Bruce Lee Albright, 20, all of Martinsburg - face the same charges as Chambers in Pennsylvania.

Gordon said the Currier brothers were in the Franklin County (Pa.) Prison in lieu of $50,000 bail, while Albright has been released on $50,000 bail.

Decker was in the Eastern Regional Jail in Martinsburg, awaiting extradition to Pennsylvania.

John Bigiarelli, 21, of Martinsburg, another defendant, was charged in Pennsylvania with theft and receiving stolen property. He was free on an appearance ticket, Gordon said.

Ortega was charged in Berkeley County with receiving stolen property. He was free on $20,000 bail.

Chambers lived at 44 N. Main St. in Mercersburg, Pa., for about a year, according to Gordon. Lininger has an office there.

Lininger said the safe had been in the office for about 75 years and contained a lifetime of possessions.

During Wednesday's preliminary hearing, Buracker read from a statement he said Ortega voluntarily gave to the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department.

Ortega allegedly told police that he used a high-speed grinder with a diamond blade to cut the safe open while others pounded it with a sledgehammer and drove into the hinges with screwdrivers to get the door off.

Ortega was not told that the safe was stolen until after it was open, according to Ortega's statement.

Ortega allegedly said that he took $5,000 as payment for opening the safe and used the money to pay bills.

Police have recovered jewelry and coins from the safe, but not the cash. The papers were thrown in a Dumpster and never recovered, Gordon said.

Some of the coins were recovered, Buracker testified Wednesday.

Ortega had no comment after the hearing.

After the safe was opened and emptied, someone was paid $200 to dispose of it, according to Buracker. That person has not been charged.

The safe was found in May in a field off Mount Olive Road South.

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