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Gold-dust theft arrest at Placer County claim

Two charged with grand theft at Foresthill site after vial of gold discovered
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Two men were behind bars Tuesday accused of stealing gold dust from a Placer County mining claim. The Placer County Sheriff’s Office reported the two were arrested while leaving the Red Ink Maid gold mine near Foresthill and a vial of gold dust was discovered during a search. A deputy patrolling the area Monday afternoon had spotted a truck parked on a turnout in an area that had been a frequent target for people digging for gold, sheriff’s spokesman Dena Erwin said. Most of the illegal digging at the Red Ink Maid mine site off Mosquito Ridge Road had taken place at night but two deputies approached the property and spotted two men roaming with metal detectors in late afternoon before sunset, the sheriff’s report said. A vehicle was stopped as it was leaving the area around 5:30 p.m. and two men inside turned over a vial with gold-colored flakes, a rock containing more gold flakes, and a .45 caliber automatic pistol. The two were booked into Placer County Jail in North Auburn later that night on a felony charge of grand theft of gold dust. The charge is applied to anyone caught stealing, attempting to take, or carrying away gold dust from any mining claim, tunnel or sluice. Also confiscated were two metal detectors and tools, Erwin said. Charged with gold theft were Kenneth A. Lewis, 25, of Foresthill, and Justin J. Santapole, 24, of Auburn. Bail was set at $10,000 for Lewis and $20,000 for Santapole. Lewis was also charged with possession of a concealed weapon. Placer County’s high country is filled with mines and above-ground claims dating back to the Gold Rush of 1848. The Red Ink Maid mine dates back to 1910, manager Richard Sykora of Foresthill said. The mine, owned by a Nevada company, has been experiencing thievery over the past nine months, Sykora said. Waste material at the surface has been dug over and reclaimed areas with tree and grass plantings have been disturbed, he said. “There has been lots of damage,” Sykora said. “Underground, three tunnels have been broken into.” Don Drysdale, spokesman for the state Department of Conservation, said that his department is constantly concerned about people exploring or gold-seeking in below-surface mines. “Stay out, stay alive is our motto,” Drysdale said. “Depending on how old they are, there are plenty of dangers, from rattlers to fall hazards to rotting timbers.” With the price of gold rising from $300 an ounce a decade ago to more than $1,700 Tuesday, Drysdale said the risks of entering abandoned or working mines are still not worth it. “There are easier ways to make a buck,” Drysdale said.