OAKLAND -- A federal charge of stealing an object of cultural heritage from a museum has been filed against a parolee who is suspected of taking a Gold Rush-era jewelry box valued at $805,000 from the Oakland Museum of California on Jan. 9, authorities said Tuesday.
The federal complaint against Andre Taray Franklin, 45, of Hayward, was filed Friday in U.S. District Court. Franklin was already in the custody of state authorities, held on a charge of possession of stolen property in connection with the burglary.
It is believed the state case against Franklin will soon be dropped so the federal prosecution can begin.
Under federal law, a theft of major artwork from a museum is illegal.
If convicted, Franklin, who has 10 prior felony convictions, could face up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine, according to federal court documents.
In an affidavit included with the federal complaint, FBI Special Agent Beth F. Alvarez said that Franklin's DNA matches DNA recovered from the cover of an ax handle officials believe was used to break into the museum and steal the jewelry box.
The shoes that Franklin was wearing when he was arrested March 3 by Oakland police match footprints found in a muddy area outside the museum, the document states.
Also, Franklin matches the physical description of the burglar who was captured on museum surveillance video, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit says that Franklin sold the jewelry box to an unidentified business owner for $1,500 after the theft, then threatened to report the same man to police if he didn't pay Franklin $10,000.¿
Police had already identified the business and its owner and recovered the jewelry box. Investigators have not publicly identified either, saying the case is still open.
Besides the Jan. 9 theft, Franklin is also suspected but has not been charged in a Nov. 12 break-in at the museum that resulted in the loss of gold nuggets and Gold Rush-era pistols.
Investigating such thefts is uncommon for the FBI and it is very rare for such a crime to be charged federally, authorities said.
The FBI does run the National Stolen Art File, a computerized index of reported stolen art and cultural properties for the use of law enforcement agencies across the world.
Staff writer Natalie Neysa Alund contributed to this report.