Where 'art' thou? Locations of stolen Mathewson and Everhart loot remain a mystery

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Jun. 23—UNION TWP., N.J. — Drawn curtains. Dark windows. Unanswered knocks at the door.

This two-floor, single-family home on a quiet residential street of a Newark, New Jersey, suburb is unremarkable. Its simple frame, beige siding and brown shutters are almost entirely obscured by lush vegetation. A neighbor, Ruben Sergio-Alcivar, said he has not noticed anyone come in or out of the place since he moved to the area a few years ago.

At one point, the unassuming house may have stored stolen loot central to a still unfolding mystery more than 100 miles away — artwork from Scranton's Everhart Museum and Christy Mathewson's baseball jersey and contracts from Keystone College.

A 62-page indictment and five criminal informations unsealed last week in federal court charged four people in a decadeslong burglary ring and identified five others who have agreed to plead guilty in the conspiracy.

The paperwork also lists a home in New Jersey as the last known location of some of the stolen Mathewson memorabilia and artwork, some of which may have been recently seen. The house owners are brothers Alfred Atsus, 47, of Covington Twp., and Joseph Atsus, 48, of Roaring Brook Twp. — both under federal indictment in the case.

Representatives from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the FBI and the state police declined to comment on whether a search of the New Jersey home was completed.

Attempts to reach representatives from the New Jersey State Police and Union Twp. police were unsuccessful.

Attorney Jason Mattioli, who represents Alfred Atsus, declined to comment. Attempts to reach attorney Patrick Casey, who represents Joseph Atsus, were unsuccessful.

Those indicted for conspiracy to commit theft of major artwork and other offenses are Nicholas Dombek, 53, of Thornhurst Twp., who is a fugitive; Damien Boland, 47, of Moscow, and the Atsus brothers.

Five people — siblings Thomas Trotta, 48, of Moscow, and Dawn Trotta, 51, of Covington Twp.; Francesco "Frank" Tassiello, 50, of Scranton; and Ralph Parry, 45, of Covington Twp.; and Daryl Rinker, 50, of Thornhurst Twp. — are expected to plead guilty in the coming days.

The nine targeted and stole millions of dollars in antiques, artwork, guns, jewelry and more from 18 museums, sports halls of fame and other establishments in six states from 1999 to 2019, federal prosecutors say.

The indictment alleges that in 1999 a conspirator — Thomas Trotta — stole a 1906 Spalding baseball jersey worn by Mathewson, an early 20th-century baseball great and Factoryville native, as well as Mathewson's 1902 contract with the New York Giants and 1916 contract with the Cincinnati Reds.

Investigators also implicate Trotta, Joseph Atsus and Boland in the 2005 Everhart theft of "La Grande Passion" by Andy Warhol and "Winter in Springs," purportedly by Jackson Pollock, though its authenticity has been disputed since the theft.

Questions linger about where the stolen artwork is.

After last week's announcement of charges, federal prosecutors informed Everhart officials that one of the defendants may have seen "La Grande Passion" within the last two to three years, though investigators were unable to confirm the veracity of that statement, said interim Executive Director Charles Barber.

Barber was heartened to hear reports that some stolen property has been found — such as firearms — and held out hope the artwork was not destroyed, like other stolen valuables, including nine of Yogi Berra's World Series rings.

"All we have is hope," Barber said.

Charging documents filed in federal court do not reveal where the Mathewson memorabilia or Everhart artwork ended up, but they do show where prosecutors think the items went shortly after the thefts.

The indictment tracked the loot to "a residence owned by Joseph Atsus and Alfred Atsus in Union, New Jersey." Sometime after the Everhart burglary, the brothers, Trotta and Boland used a payphone to call a hotline and inquire after a reward.

The Atsus brothers own just one residence in Union County, purchased for $1 from the estate of their deceased father in 2003, property records show.

Neighbors believe the house is vacant.

No one ever appears to be home and usually the lights are off. Occasionally, an alarm sounds in the house and then shuts off, Sergio-Alcivar said.

Every few weeks, people stop by the house to cut the grass, he said.

The lawn is maintained, but there were some signs of neglect. A window pane on one of the two garage bay doors had a hole. Another window pane was missing. A musty smell crept from the missing window.

The view through the busted window revealed a horde of furniture and old appliances.

A nearly 120-year-old baseball jersey and thousands — perhaps millions — of dollars worth of fine art were nowhere to be seen.

Contact the writer: jkohut@timesshamrock.com, 570-348-9100, x5187; @jkohutTT on Twitter.