Museum Security Network

Ex-curator pleads guilty to theft

Ex-curator pleads guilty to theft

Allison White/The Times-Standard 

Posted:07/10/2009 01:21:15 AM PDT 

The former curator of Fortuna Depot Museum pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing antiques and was sentenced to 45 days at Humboldt County jail, including time served. 

Robert Kenneth Newell, 60, told the court he was ashamed of taking items from the museum to sell on eBay and that he wanted to take responsibility for the crime. 

When I did this, I was in an apartment and not making rent, Newell said. I was going in the wrong direction. I was going after money. 

His salary as curator was not enough to pay his rent and he faced rising debt, Newell said to the court. He added that it wasn’t an excuse for what he’s done. 

Newell pleaded guilty to grand theft of personal property and possessing known stolen property, both misdemeanors. Along with the jail sentence, he must also complete 25 hours of community service, pay more than $500 in fines, is banned from using eBay and must publish a letter of apology to the public. 

He will be committed to jail Aug. 9. Restitution will be determined at a later date. 

The city of Fortuna hired Newell in January to be curator of the Depot Museum. He was fired April 24 — the same day he was arrested for theft. The stolen items included antique fishing equipment that Newell sold on eBay for more than $800, according to court documents. 

Newell told the court that the items he took were not of much value to the museum and would probably have never been displayed. 

I’m not trying to say I’m not guilty, but what we’re talking about is junk, he said. 

Deputy District Attorney Ben Mainzer said that Newell had abused the public’s trust and that betrayal should not be looked at lightly. 

It’s positive that he’s taking responsibility today … but it doesn’t diminish the charges or what he’s done, Mainzer said.

The museum is located in an 1893 depot building in Rohner Park. As curator, Newell oversaw the museum’s collections, which include local artifacts of the region’s timber, fishing, railroad and indigenous history.

Prior to taking on the museum curator position, Newell spent 15 years as a golf professional working at the Willow Creek Golf and Country Club.

Allison White can be reached at 441-0506 or

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