3 held for trial in Murrysville silver heist case
Circumstantial evidence was enough for District Judge Charles Conway to bind over charges on Tuesday against three people accused in a silver heist from Metalor Technologies in April 2011.
In addition, charges related to a previous silver theft were held for trial against William Michael Degrange, 55, of Irwin, who police suspect is the ringleader of the heist. Degrange was employed by AMI DODUCO in Murrysville for about four years before it was purchased by Metalor, which manufactures electrical contacts.
"He was in a position to know the layout of the plant," said Assistant District Attorney John Petrush, adding that silver pellets from Metalor were found in Degrange's Ford Mustang.
During a more than three-hour combined preliminary hearing for Degrange, his wife Bobbie Jean Dickson, 47, of Irwin and George M. Viglione, 56, of Monroeville, Detective Thomas Horan testified that he believes Degrange stole silver from Metalor and sold it for cash.
Horan admitted that there is no physical evidence of Degrange breaking into the Murrysville plant in April 2011. Nor is there evidence that silver allegedly sold by Degrange to a Mt. Pocono dealer between June 2010 and April 21, 2011, originated from Metalor, Horan said.
"I have a serious reasonable suspicion where it came from," Horan testified. "I think I can convince a jury that this man ... all of a sudden, comes up with a half-million dollars' worth of silver. It's one hell of a coincidence."
Investigators allege that Degrange was part of a 2008 theft in which three other employees served jail time for smuggling from the plant more than $2 million in hockey puck-sized silver scrap in their lunchboxes during two years. He was employed at AMI DODUCO between January 2005 and June 2009, according to testimony.
Prosecutors said Degrange broke into the same building between April 20-25, 2011, and stole 429 pounds of silver pellets. A T-shirt was hung over a security camera, according to testimony.
Three, one-gallon jugs containing silver pellets were later buried in a South Huntingdon field. Viglione and three other defendants -- Colin Carr Fulciniti, 22, of Shadyside; Brian John Flaherty, 56, and his son, Bryon Jon Flaherty, 38, both of Penn Hills -- allegedly used a metal detector to find the pellets.
Fulciniti, Viglione and the Flahertys are charged with conspiracy and receiving stolen property. Degrange and Dickson are charged with burglary and theft.
Five of the suspects have been released on bail. Degrange is incarcerated in SCI-Pittsburgh on a parole violation from a 1980s Washington County case.
Fulciniti testified yesterday that he rented a metal detector and dug up the pellets in fall 2011 while both Flahertys watched. Viglione, who was recovering from a leg injury, stayed in Fulciniti's car, the witness said.
"(The Flahertys) said that they had known where some silver was buried, and they said if I would help dig it up, I would receive payment for that," Fulciniti testified.
He later sold some of the silver to Southside Jewelers, where the plot eventually unraveled.
Horan testified that he found a few ounces of silver pellets in the trunk of Degrange's vehicle. When investigators were about to leave the home, Horan testified, Dickson slipped him a small piece of paper implicating two of the other defendants.
A Metalor chemist concluded to a "reasonable degree of scientific certainty" that three silver samples provided by investigators originated at the plant, Horan said.
Attorneys for Dickson and Degrange argued that yesterday's testimony did not connect their clients to the crimes.
"There's absolutely no evidence ... that places Mr. Degrange in or around that facility at any point in April," attorney Michael DeRiso said. "He wasn't even working there."