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June 15, 2023

Yogi Berra's World Series rings, Warhol and Pollock paintings among valuables stolen by Pa. thieves, feds say

Authorities also allege the ring nabbed antique guns, jewelry and gems also during a 20-year span

Investigations Theft
Yogi Berra Rings Stolen Jim McIsaac/Newsday/MCT/Sipa USA

World Series rings and other memorabilia from late New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra, pictured above on the left in 2011, were among the items allegedly stolen by nine Pennsylvania residents who were part of a museum theft ring, according to federal prosecutors.

Nine people from Pennsylvania are charged with stealing sports memorabilia, art work and other valuables — including nine of Yogi Berra's World Series rings — as part of a scheme that lasted nearly two decades, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

The defendants were indicted by a grand jury following an investigation into the thefts, which primarily occurred at museums and cultural centers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York between 1999 and 2018. Prosecutors allege they broke into these institutions to steal and sell the items they took.  

Nine World Series rings, seven other championship rings and two MVP plaques awarded to Yogi Berra were stolen in 2014 from the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center in Little Falls, New Jersey, authorities said. Together, the memorabilia was worth more than $1 million. 

Pop artist Andy Warhol's "Le Grande Passion" painting and Jackson Pollock's "Springs Water" each were stolen from the Everhart Museum in Scranton in 2005. 

At the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame in Goshen, New York, 14 trophies and other awards worth more than $300,000 were stolen in 2012. And at the National Racing Museum & Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs, New York, the 1903 Belmont Stakes Trophy and four others worth a combined $400,000 were stolen the following year. Six championship belts were later stolen in 2015 from the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, New York. 

Other stolen items noted by investigators included golf trophies, antique guns, gold nuggets, jewelry and various gems and minerals. An MVP trophy given to Yankees star Roger Maris and a jersey worn by baseball star Christy Mathewson also were stolen.  

The alleged leaders of the ring were identified Thursday as Nicholas Dombek, 53, of Thornhurst; Damien Boland, 47, of Moscow; Alfred Atsus, 47, of Covington Township; and Joseph Atsus, 48, of Roaring Brook.

According to investigators, the defendants typically transported the stolen items to Dombek's home in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Some of the sports memorabilia items allegedly were melted into metal discs and bars that could easily be transported and sold in the New York City area. 

Although the items collectively fetched hundreds of thousands of dollars on the black market, they generally sold for much less than their value as items of historical significance, prosecutors said.

During the course of the investigation, Dombek allegedly burned 19th century artist Jasper Cropsey's "Upper Hudson" painting — valued at about $500,000 — in order to avoid its recovery as evidence in the pending case against him and his alleged co-conspirators.

Many of the stolen items still have not been found, authorities said.

Also charged in the indictment are Thomas Trotta, 48, of Moscow; Frank Tassiello, 50, of Scranton; Daryl Rinker, 50, of Thornhurst; Dawn Trotta, 51, of Covington Township; and Ralph Parry, 45, of Covington Township.

The defendants each are charged with conspiracy to commit theft of major artwork, concealment or disposal of objects of cultural heritage, and interstate transportation of stolen property.

Under federal law, the conspiracy count has a maximum penalty of five years in prison. The other offenses carry maximum penalties of 10 years in prison.