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Robbers steal as much as $2 million in gold, gems from mining museum

Authorities are searching for the pickax-armed men who made off with as much as $2 million in gold and gems from the California State Mining and Mineral Museum in Mariposa.

Robbers wearing face masks and night goggles broke into the museum about 4 p.m. Friday, threatening a museum curator and guide with the pickaxes and herding employees into the far end of the building, authorities said.

They then went after the famed Fricot Nugget, an almost 14-pound swirl of crystalline gold believed to be the biggest chunk to survive the Gold Rush, said state parks spokesman Roy Stearns.

The nugget is kept in an iron safe within a vaulted room. When the burglar alarms sounded, the doors to the room automatically started to close. The thieves couldn't get into the safe but managed to escape the building — possibly with other gold and gems.

The museum's treasures have been moved to an undisclosed location, where officials will take inventory to see what is missing.

The possibility of such a heist has been a point of contention among local volunteers who wanted the state Parks Department to turn over control of the museum to them.

The cash-strapped state was slated to pack up the collection for storage by the end of July. Then, on July 20, it came to light that the Parks Department had $54 million socked away, previously unreported to budget officials; and the museum and its collection remained open, awaiting a final decision.

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— Diana Marcum in Mariposa

 
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