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Man who stole historical artifacts sentenced

A Tidioute man will spend years in state prison for stealing in excess of $100,000 in historical artifacts from a Main Street residence in Tidioute, effectively destroying 150 years of that family’s history.

Chad D. McLaughlin, 36, was sentenced by Judge Gregory Hammond Friday morning.

Many of the items can’t be replaced.

Hammond specifically mentioned a letter signed by President William McKinley to a member of the family that had served in the Civil War. “I don’t think you’re going to be able to track down President McKinley,” Hammond said.

One of four U.S. presidents to be assassinated, McKinley died in 1901.

The burglaries are alleged to have occurred between July 2020 and March 20, 2021, at 201 Main St. in Tidioute.

The residence was reportedly built by a Civil War major — Eliot Curtis — “and contained a large amount of his belongings,” according to the affidavit of probable cause.

Troopers identify that the collection included at least 36 pipes as well as other historical items such as U.S. Liberty coins, Curtis’ diary, a photograph, book and five antique wooden clocks.

Troopers received a call from the Tidioute postmaster, who had seen a release regarding the theft of antique pipes. The postmaster “recalled sometime in January while she was working Chad McLaughlin had entered the post office to mail out a package.” She asked what it was “to which McLaughlin responded that it contained antique tobacco pipes.”

Troopers went back to the owner indicating that a suspect had been identified and the owner allegedly told police they had “located an eBay account under the name ‘Chad16351” and that he had reviewed “many of the items sold on the account … (that) were stolen from his house.”

The zip code in Tidioute is 16351.

Troopers matched items sold on the eBay page with pictures of items provided by the victim. They were unable to gather footprints from the scene as “it possibly looked like the actor had been wearing gloves,” the affidavit explained.

McLaughlin’s attorney, Henry Borger, said he tries to understand what is going on in a client’s life when he takes a case. “He was embarrassed. He was reticent,” Borger said. “This was a gambling issue.”

Borger said his client was “in over his head” with online gambling and stole to support the habit.

“He understands the historical significance,” Borger said, of the items he took and noted there is a “tremendous amount of restitution due” that his client has “every intention of paying every cent of it.”

Senior Deputy Attorney General Evan Lowry said the sentence doesn’t just stem from McLaughlin’s theft of things. “He stole living history,” Lowry said. “History that is now gone. He stole a connection a son had with a father.”

He told the court that McLaughlin did return close to 25 items that were stolen from the residence.

McLaughlin told the court that he is “truly and heartfelt sorry” for his actions and is ready to accept responsibility.

Hammond cited the offense dates and said in response that it “took a couple of years to come around.” He called the total amount taken a “devastating amount of money…. Are you ever going to pay that back?”

Citing victim impact statements from the family as well as an antique dealer in the county that McLaughlin sold to, Hammond cited the stress that McLaughlin caused for both victims from the extensive police investigation and disruption to the one victim’s business.

He said McLaughlin also used a toilet in the residence “that obviously wasn’t operable” while one of the victims called the defendant a “masterful con.”

Hammond sentenced McLaughlin to 14-28 months incarceration, $101,230 in restitution, $500 in fees, a no contact/no trespass order, submission of a DNA sample and compliance with treatment recommendations on a count of burglary; 14-28 months incarceration on a count of theft by unlawful taking and nine to 18 months incarceration, $7,700 in restitution and a no contact/no trespass order for the second victim on a count of theft by deception.

Charges of theft and two counts of receiving stolen property merged for sentencing purposes.

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