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Collector charged in theft of Star Wars items in California

Associated Press logo Associated Press 6/5/2017 By KRISTIN J. BENDER, Associated Press
In this undated photo provided by Rancho Obi-Wan is a ceremony taking place at the Star Wars museum, Rancho Obi-Wan, in Petaluma, Calif. A Georgia man is facing felony grand theft charges for stealing more than $200,000 worth of prized Star Wars vintage action figures from the California nonprofit museum where roughly 400,000 pieces of memorabilia are stored and shown to visitors. The museum founder says that more than 100 pieces were stolen starting from 2015 to 2016 by a friend who stayed at the compound four times during that period. (Anne Neumann/Rancho Obi-Wan via AP) © The Associated Press In this undated photo provided by Rancho Obi-Wan is a ceremony taking place at the Star Wars museum, Rancho Obi-Wan, in Petaluma, Calif. A Georgia man is facing felony grand theft charges for stealing more than $200,000 worth of prized Star Wars vintage action figures from the California nonprofit museum where roughly 400,000 pieces of memorabilia are stored and shown to visitors. The museum founder says that more than 100 pieces were stolen starting from 2015 to 2016 by a friend who stayed at the compound four times during that period. (Anne Neumann/Rancho Obi-Wan via AP)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — In the first "Star Wars" film, Obi-Wan Kenobi said, "in my experience there is no such thing as luck." Steve Sansweet thinks differently.

In this undated photo provided by Rancho Obi-Wan is the Star Wars museum, Rancho Obi-Wan, in Petaluma, Calif. A Georgia man is facing felony grand theft charges for stealing more than $200,000 worth of prized Star Wars vintage action figures from the California nonprofit museum where roughly 400,000 pieces of memorabilia are stored and shown to visitors. The museum founder says that more than 100 pieces were stolen starting from 2015 to 2016 by a friend who stayed at the compound four times during that period. (Anne Neumann/Rancho Obi-Wan via AP) © The Associated Press In this undated photo provided by Rancho Obi-Wan is the Star Wars museum, Rancho Obi-Wan, in Petaluma, Calif. A Georgia man is facing felony grand theft charges for stealing more than $200,000 worth of prized Star Wars vintage action figures from the California nonprofit museum where roughly 400,000 pieces of memorabilia are stored and shown to visitors. The museum founder says that more than 100 pieces were stolen starting from 2015 to 2016 by a friend who stayed at the compound four times during that period. (Anne Neumann/Rancho Obi-Wan via AP)

Sansweet, the owner of the largest privately owned collection of Star Wars memorabilia in the world, said Monday he feels lucky he found out about the theft of $200,000 worth of prized vintage action figures from his California nonprofit museum before it was too late.

About 120 pieces were stolen between 2015 and 2016 by a friend who stayed at the compound four times during that period, Sansweet said.

The sprawling collections are set up on shelves and are not behind glass or under lock and key.

About 100 of the stolen items have been recovered, he said.

Police arrested Carl Edward Cunningham, 45, of Marietta, Georgia, and in March, the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office charged him with felony grand theft.

Cunningham is free on $25,000 bail and is scheduled to be in court June 27 for a preliminary hearing.

Neither Cunningham, nor his lawyer, Amy Chapman, returned calls for comment.

"It was very lucky we found out when we did — but not so lucky that he had a year to steal things," Sansweet said.

Sansweet, the founder of Rancho Obi-Wan in Petaluma, California, owns roughly 400,000 pieces of Star Wars memorabilia that are on display and shown to visitors.

That includes everything from the original banner Lucasfilm used to promote Star Wars at fan conventions in 1976, to a Darth Vader costume and all of the more than 2,500 small action figures issued over the past 40 years.

The thefts surfaced after a collector learned he had inadvertently purchased a Boba Fett action figure stolen from a Texas warehouse, Sansweet said.

Star Wars actors Mark Hamill and Peter Mayhew tweeted about Sansweet's news Monday.

"Maybe publish a list of stolen items to protect potential victims from purchasing 'hot' merchandise. #TheFraudIsStrongInThisOne #SithHappens," Hamill said.

"This is despicable. Keep an eye out. Get the word out," Mayhew tweeted.

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