MIAMI, Fla. (Reuters) - Two men have been arrested on federal theft charges accusing them of stealing a 17th-century gold bar from a Key West, Florida, museum more than seven years after the treasure valued at $550,000 disappeared.
Jarred Alexander Goldman, 32, and Richard Steven Johnson, 41, made initial court appearances on Tuesday, a day after their arrests, Annette Lima, a Justice Department spokeswoman in the Southern District of Florida, said in an email.
Federal authorities said the pair drove on Aug. 18, 2010, from West Palm Beach to Key West’s Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, where Goldman stood guard while Johnson plucked the oblong bar from its perch.
“We were devastated,” museum Chief Executive Melissa Kendrick said of the theft in a telephone interview on Tuesday. “This was a piece of a history that people could touch, and many people considered it their own gold bar.”
Lawyers for the men could not be immediately reached for comment.
The relic had been aboard the Santa Margarita, a Spanish galleon that sank in the Florida Straits in 1622 with more than 9,000 ounces of gold plundered from the Americas.
Treasure hunter Mel Fisher, for whom the museum is named, discovered part of the Santa Margarita wreck in 1980 while scouring the sea floor for ships which were once in a fleet sailing treasures back to Spain.
The stolen bar has not been located. The museum’s insurance company had offered as much as $25,000 for information leading to its return.
Authorities did not reveal how they determined Goldman and Johnson to be suspects in the case.
Goldman was arrested in South Florida on Monday, and authorities nabbed Johnson in Sacramento, California, court records said. Both face charges of conspiring to commit an offence against the United States and theft of major art work, and could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
A judge in the Florida Keys granted Goldman bail on Tuesday, while a judge in California decided Johnson was a flight risk and ordered his detention pending a trial.
Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Richard Chang