$400,000 theft: Two are accused after art dealer’s trailer was taken.
Jaclyn O’Malley RENO GAZETTE-JOURNAL
A Utah art dealer hauling $400,000 worth of religious art and Bibles thought he’d stop for dinner at a downtown Reno casino before heading to an art show in the San Francisco Bay area.
Reno police said that within minutes of leaving his vehicle, thieves disengaged and towed the trailer, which contained three mint condition Books of Mormon from the 1800s — one valued at $110,000 — and sculptures of Mormon religious figures and Abraham Lincoln.
The good news for art dealer Lee Snarr is police recovered two of the three books and arrested two suspects, one who allegedly gave the $110,000 Book of Mormon to a man who tried to swap it for a used car. The other suspect parked Snarr’s utility trailer in front of his home behind 7-foot pieces of wood, police said.
An 1851 edition of the Book of Mormon valued at $17,000 and eight statues remain missing.
The theft occurred about 12:15 a.m. Oct. 11 in the parking lot of Diamonds Casino, 1000 E. Sixth St.
Snarr could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Detective Jack Wilsey of the auto theft unit said Snarr had buyers lined up in California for the items. He said Snarr called every West Coast book dealer he could find and asked them to be on the alert for anyone trying to sell his stolen books.
Police got their first break on Oct. 14 when a Reno bookstore owner said a man had tried to sell one of the books. The man was supposed to come back the next day but never showed, Wilsey said.
The next day a Secret Witness tip led detectives to a Sun Valley trailer park where they found Snarr’s utility trailer parked next to a mobile home. The decals, identification number and serial number were scratched off, police said. None of Snarr’s stolen property was inside.
The owner of the mobile home, Mark Sanders, 39, was arrested Oct. 15 on suspicion of possession of stolen property and later posted bail. Police said he told them he bought Snarr’s trailer for $300 from a group of men he saw in a shopping center parking lot.
Police found the Books of Mormon on Tuesday after a man tried to trade the $110,000 Book of Mormon for a used car at a Reno car lot, police said.
Lt. Ron Donnelly said the man claimed he didn’t have any money but that someone had told him the book was worth a lot of money. The dealer took the book to a South Virginia Street bookstore owner who was aware of the theft and called police.
The prospective buyer told police Ernest Ortega had given him the book and was not aware it was stolen, Donnelly said. Officers found 39-year-old Ortega living in a stolen camper trailer parked on Linden Street.
Ortega was arrested Wednesday on two counts of possession of stolen property and possession of methamphetamine. He was booked into the Washoe County Jail and held in lieu of $6,000 bail.
Ortega told police he gave the second Book of Mormon, valued at $60,000, to a woman who gave it to her brother. The brother Thursday morning turned in the book to detectives, Wilsey said.
“The property really switched hands quite a bit,” Donnelly said.
Police ask anyone with information to contact auto theft officers at 334-2140 or Secret Witness at 322-4900.
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