Owner of largest Star Wars memorabilia collection robbed

This file photo taken on November 24, 2015 shows Steve Sansweet, owner and self-proclaimed CEO of Rancho Obi-Wan, the world's largest private collection of Star Wars memorabilia in Petaluma, California

The owner of the largest collection of Star Wars memorabilia said on Monday a longtime friend had robbed him of more than 100 items, including rare vintage US and foreign carded action figures.

Steve Sansweet, who runs Rancho Obi-Wan, a non-profit museum north of San Francisco that houses more than 400,000 Star Wars collectibles, said the theft took place over several months in late 2015 through 2016.

"We're missing about 120 to 130 items worth some $200,000," he told AFP. He said the majority of the items stolen are vintage US and foreign carded action figures, many of them rare.

Sansweet, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who worked for 15 years as head of fan relations at Lucasfilm before retiring in 2011, identified the suspect as Carl Cunningham, a well-known Star Wars collector and R2-D2 builder from Marietta, Georgia.

"I've known him for 20 years," Sansweet said. "He shared our hospitality, he stayed with us, he ate our food, he had the run of the museum as few people had because we trusted him, and he turns around and does something like this."

A spokesman for the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office confirmed to AFP that Cunningham on March 13 had been charged with felony grand theft and was free on bail.

Reading from the charge sheet, Sergeant Spencer Crum said Cunningham had visited Sansweet several times and had easy access to the collection recgonized by Guinness World Records as the largest in the world "as he voluntarily dusted pieces and did cleanup work around the museum."

The theft came to light after a major collector and owner of several Star Wars websites raised the alarm upon discovering that one of his collectibles -- a rare prototype rocket-firing Boba Fett action figure -- was stolen from his Texas warehouse.

A toy dealer subsequently came forward to say he had purchased the item as well as a number of other rare Star Wars collectibles from Cunningham.

Sansweet said Cunningham had sent him email and text messages admitting the theft.

"He says ... he's in therapy and seeking to understand himself and apologizes," Sansweet said.

"To have a friend come in and do something like this, it could destroy your faith in humanity," he added, appealing to anyone who may have purchased any stolen Star Wars collectibles to come forward.

"It is our goal to resolve this situation as quickly as possible and to continue to use the collection at Rancho Obi-Wan to 'Inspire through the Force' despite the destruction caused by one person," he said.

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