April 30, 2005 in Nation/World

Old currency, new twist: All 4 face charges

Jay Lindsay Associated Press
AP photo/The Eagle-Tribune, Carl Russo photo

Barry Billcliff, left, and Matt Ingham, right, hold money as Tim Crebase lights up his cigar by burning a current $1 bill on April 22 as they celebrate finding antique money allegedly buried in a Methuen, Mass., back yard.
(Full-size photo)

METHUEN, Mass. – Four men who made headlines by claiming they dug up buried treasure worth as much as $125,000 from one of their yards were charged Friday with stealing the cache of old currency while doing a roofing job at someone’s home.

The arrests came after the men made several appearances on national television, and police noticed how the story seemed to change each time.

“Had they kept quiet … they probably could have sold the money and no one would have ever known,” Police Chief Joseph E. Solomon said. “It just got away from them. Sort of like the snowball rolls down the hill, and it keeps going and crushes you.”

Barry Billcliff, 27, of Manchester, N.H., and Timothy Crebase, 24, of Methuen, Mass., pleaded not guilty after being arrested on charges of receiving stolen property, conspiracy and accessory after the fact. Warrants were issued for Kevin Kozak, 27, of Methuen, and Matt Ingham, 23, of Newton, N.H., on the same charges.

Investigators said Crebase confessed under questioning. Crebase said he, Billcliff and Ingham – all roofers – found the money stuffed in rusting tin cans in the gutter of a barn they were hired to repair, and persuaded Kozak to go along with their story, authorities said. In the alleged confession, Crebase said Ingham planned to use proceeds to fund his rock band.

Investigators said they are not convinced it was found in a barn; they said it might have been taken from the barn owners’ house.

Under Massachusetts law, “when you’re working on my house and you find it on my property, you’ve got to tell me,” the police chief.

Police declined to identify the barn’s owners, and said they were not even aware the money was there. Solomon said most of the currency was recovered, but some was probably already sold.

Lawyers for Billcliff and Crebase said the men were sticking to their story of finding the box while digging under a tree in the back yard of a house Crebase rented from Kozak in the town of Methuen.

Billcliff’s lawyer, Alexander Cain, said, “There is no evidence, none, that my client committed any crime.”

The cache included 1,800 bank notes and bills dating from 1899 to 1928. The currency had a face value of about $7,000, but prosecutors said the men had been offered $125,000 by a collector.

Police received an anonymous call on Tuesday from a woman who said the story the men had been telling was a lie, according to court papers.

They interviewed neighbors who said they had not seen anyone digging in the yard. And a coin shop owner who examined the money told investigators the men gave him conflicting accounts of how they found it.

Police also noticed that the money appeared to be in remarkably good condition for being buried a foot below ground through decades of New England weather.

In addition, the men gave conflicting reasons for digging in Crebase’s yard. They told one reporter they were preparing to plant a tree. In other reports, they said they were trying to remove a small tree or dig up the roots of a shrub that was damaging the home’s foundation.

The arrest of Billcliff and Crebase forced the cancellation of an appearance Thursday night on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” because they were being booked by police around the time the show was airing. They were to have been interviewed from the yard where they claimed to have dug up the money.

Solomon said the motive for calling the media about their find may have been to push up the price of the loot or publicize Ingham’s rock band, which they mentioned in several interviews.

Crebase enthusiastically took all calls, and told one reporter how much he was enjoying the attention.

“It’s all spectacular,” Crebase said Wednesday. “I’m so beside myself, I don’t know what to think.”

Solomon said it doesn’t appear the men planned to seek broad exposure, but when the national media came calling, they couldn’t refuse. “It just got out of hand,” he said.

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