Eight years after it was stolen from a Key West treasure museum — and almost 400 years after it sank to the bottom of the ocean — a gold bar is at the center of a federal trial that began Tuesday in Key West.
Jarred Goldman, 32, of Palm Beach Gardens, is charged with conspiracy and theft of a major cultural artifact in the 2010 heist of a gold bar from the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West.
The gold was part of a treasure fleet bound from the New World to Spain that sank in a hurricane off the Keys in 1622.
Treasure hunter Mel Fisher found the Santa Margarita, the ship carrying the bar, in 1980. The artifact eventually became part of one of the museum’s most popular exhibits. Visitors could reach through a clear plastic case and actually touch and lift the gold bar.
But eight years ago, Richard Johnson broke a piece of the display case, slipped the gold bar into his pocket and walked out. Johnson was charged in the same indictment as Goldman. He has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and theft and is scheduled for sentencing in July.
Federal prosecutors say Goldman acted as a lookout during the theft. In opening statements Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Monique Botero called the object of the theft “a gold bar worth over half a million dollars ... A priceless historical artifact.”
The museum had surveillance videos but for a long time, no leads on the perpetrators.
“For eight long years, the case lay cold just like those ships at the bottom of the ocean,” Botero said.
An anonymous tip led the FBI to Goldman last fall.
According to court filings, Goldman “admitted that he acted as a lookout on August 18, 2010, while his acquaintance ‘Rick’ stole a gold bar” from the museum.
Goldman’s attorney said Tuesday that his client’s role as a lookout was “pure speculation” on the part of the government and that the surveillance videos would not show him taking part in the theft.
Assistant Federal Public Defender Ian McDonald said Johnson was only an acquaintance that Goldman thought he was getting a ride from in 2010 - and not to Key West. Goldman thought they were going to the Hard Rock Casino to play cards, McDonald said.
McDonald said Goldman was “just someone who ended up being stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time, definitely with the wrong person.”
If convicted, the maximum sentence of both charges would be 15 years.