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Miner statue comes home to Carthay Circle

January 6, 2009 |  5:21 pm

The 6-foot bronze miner statue stolen last February from the Carthay Circle area and later recovered from a Los Angeles scrapyard is back on familiar ground, where it will be fully installed in the next two weeks, city officials said today.

For decades, the gold miner stood in plain view at the busy intersection of San Vicente Boulevard and McCarthy Vista. But sky-high prices for such metals as bronze, brass and copper made the statue too tempting a target to thieves.

Then in February, thieves cut the miner free from its mooring to a boulder and made off with the 512-pound sculpture, valued at $125,000.

Detectives with the Los Angeles Police Department's art theft detail tracked down the statue -- which had been sliced in two -- at a local scrapyard, where it was purchased for $900.

Sebastian Espana, 22, and Jessie Hernandez, 23, were later arrested on suspicion of grand theft  in connection with a string of thefts of bronze statues and sculptures in the Wilshire area and in Beverly Hills.

Each pleaded no contest to two counts of felony grand theft and were sentenced in July to 16 months in state prison. They were also ordered to pay $31,700 each in restitution.

Sculpted by Henry Lion in 1924 and 1925, the miner, along with a fountain, commemorated 19th century settlers in California. Its reinstallation, nearly a year in the making, is expected to take a week to 10 days.

It was one of three public statues stolen over nine months in 2007 and 2008, including a 6-foot-tall, 4-foot-wide bronze sculpture taken from its concrete stand in front of a business in Brea.

Authorities across the country say the high price of metals -- which have since come back to earth -- prompted the thefts.

Even then, police said, the art thieves ended up with pennies on the dollar for often irreplaceable works of art.

--Andrew Blankstein

Photo: Los Angeles Times file

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