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NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — The former New Bedford Whaling Museum employee accused of covertly stealing nearly 200 of artifacts while on the job reportedly sold them for cash without knowing their true value, according to prosecutors.
Robert Burchell pleaded not guilty Friday to 13 counts of larceny over $1,200 and six counts of larceny under $1,200. Burchell is accused of stealing the “pocket-sized” artifacts while completing maintenance work for the museum.
The 42-year-old was arrested earlier this year after a suspicious West Bridgewater shop owner came forward with some of the artifacts, which he claimed to have purchased from Burchell.
In court, Assistant District Attorney Michael Scott explained that nearly all of the artifacts Burchell swiped from the museum weren’t on display and were kept elsewhere.
Burchell primarily stole items he could easily conceal, according to Scott, including jewelry and various forms of historic currency.
Scott estimates that the artifacts Burchell stole were worth nearly $150,000 in total, though he only sold them for $13,000.
One of the artifacts, a scrimshaw-engraved whale’s tooth, was worth $35,000 alone, according to Scott.
Scott believes Burchell “may not have been aware of the gravity of what he was doing.”
“He was taking [artifacts] from the museum that are irreplaceable,” he said.
So far, approximately 175 artifacts have been returned to the museum, according to Scott, while roughly 30 remain unaccounted for.
Burchell has a lengthy criminal history, which Scott said includes shoplifting, larceny and breaking and entering.
Brian Fahy, Burchell’s attorney, refused to categorize him as a “professional thief,” adding that he has been cooperating with the investigation.
“If anything … he was probably more helpful than he should have been,” Fahy said. “He never tried to run or hide from what he allegedly did.”
Burchell was granted $5,000 bail and ordered to stay away from the museum and its employees. He’s due back in court on June 22.
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