Florida Keys

Man who stole gold bar from Key West museum blames abuse and cannabis addiction

Richard Steven Johnson is captured on security video at a Key West museum on Aug. 18, 2010.
Richard Steven Johnson is captured on security video at a Key West museum on Aug. 18, 2010. Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum

One of two men who stole a gold bar from a Key West museum in 2010 says his untreated child abuse and a $700-a-week cannabis addiction played a significant role in the crime.

Richard Steven Johnson is due for sentencing at U.S. District Court in Key West on July 23 for breaking into a display case while Jarred Goldman kept watch and swiping a 17th century gold bar recovered from a shipwreck in 1980.

Johnson took the gold bar, worth about $550,000, to Las Vegas and chopped it up for sale, according to testimony at Goldman’s trial. Goldman was convicted by a jury and is also set for sentencing July 23.

Both face up to 15 years in prison. Johnson could receive a break since he cooperated with federal prosecutors.

Johnson’s attorney says a two-year sentence would be appropriate given the family support his client has and his “extreme remorse.”

Johnson’s attorneys say Judge Jose Martinez should take into consideration that Johnson is not the same man who robbed the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum of a rare artifact eight years ago.

The 17th century gold bar stolen from a Key West museum in 2010 is valued at $550,000. Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum

“The Richard that stands before this court for sentencing is a very different person than he was in 2010 when he brazenly walked into the Mel Fisher Museum to steal a gold bar,” wrote Miami attorney Chad Piotrowski in a July 13 filing.

Since the crime was committed, Johnson has found stability in a relationship with his wife, Priscilla, Piotrowski said.

“Priscilla has proven to be a strong support system for Richard, and she will be there for him at the end of this when he will need her the most,” Piotrowski wrote.

Johnson grew up with an alcoholic mother and a sexually abusive uncle, according to Johnson’s sister, Melody Webster, of Cannon Falls, Minnesota.

“He never had a chance to be a child,” Webster wrote to the court.

His attorney blames a daily cannabis habit for spurring on the gold-bar theft and is asking that Johnson be placed in a residential drug-treatment program.

The gold-bar heist wasn’t Johnson’s first criminal act.

At age 19 in 1996, Johnson admitted to killing his six-month-old son by shaking him to death because he wouldn’t stop crying. He served about seven years in a Minnesota state prison.

Johnson, in a letter to his attorney filed in court, said he never underwent any therapy for his son’s death and that it “eats me inside even bringing it up to myself.”

Johnson cites his marriage and becoming a Jehovah’s Witness as evidence that he has changed.

“I would like to forgive all of the monsters who hurt me as a child and eventually forgive myself for the wrongs I have done,” he wrote.