Museum Security Network

Insider theft. Former curator Fortuna Depot Museum suspected of selling museum items on eBay

Former museum curator suspected of selling museum items on eBay

Sean Garmire/The Times-Standard.
Posted: 05/08/2009 01:21:08 AM PDT.

A recently hired Fortuna museum curator is under investigation by police after he was arrested in late April for allegedly stealing thousands of dollars worth of museum property and selling it over the Internet.

Robert Newell, the former curator of the Fortuna Depot Museum who was hired in January, was arrested after a co-worker told police he suspected Newell was selling items that belonged to the museum on eBay.

Fortuna Assistant City Manager Cheryl Nicholson said Newell was fired on April 24 — the same day he was arrested by Fortuna police on felony charges of grand theft and possession of stolen property. Newell, 60, was booked into the Humboldt County jail, and later released on his own recognizance.

City officials declined to release any information about the alleged theft, citing personnel privacy issues. Fortuna Police Chief Kris Kitna confirmed Newell had been arrested on suspicion of theft of public property, but would not say what items he is alleged to have taken.

According to a police document filed in Humboldt County Superior Court, after investigators learned of the allegations they contacted Newell, who reportedly admitted the thefts and led officers to his residence. There, investigators reportedly found missing museum property, as well as records of sales made over the Internet.

Those sold items “were several thousand dollars in value,” the officer wrote in his report.

The District Attorney’s Office has filed charges against Newell, alleging that from February through April, Newell was in possession of stolen property that had been obtained by extortion from the city of Fortuna’s Depot Museum.

Newell has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and awaits a pretrial hearing May 24.

According to information from the District Attorney’s Office, the two charges have been reduced from felonies to misdemeanors.

Deputy District Attorney Ben Mainzer, who has been assigned to the case, could not be reached for comment on why the charges were reduced.

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.

Sean Garmire can be reached at 441-0514 or

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