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North Strabane man must tell 'whole story' in Civil War artifacts plea

Jason Cato
| Saturday, April 11, 2015, 12:01 a.m.

One hundred fifty years and a day after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender effectively ended the Civil War, a Washington County man ceased his two-year battle with state prosecutors over a cache of weapons and artifacts from that era.

John Irwin Moeller, 48, of North Strabane pleaded guilty Friday in Washington to one count of illegally possessing firearms and no contest to receiving stolen property.

Moeller and his attorney, Steven Toprani, declined to comment. Common Pleas Judge Gary Gilman scheduled sentencing for July 1, with a hearing April 23 to determine how much should be paid in restitution.

In February 2013, Peters police and state troopers charged Moeller with illegal possession, burglary and theft regarding more than $1 million worth of Civil War memorabilia removed from a private Peters museum that focused on Pennsylvania life, from the French and Indian War to World War I.

Moeller sold a small portion of the items to two Pittsburgh men for $670,000, Senior Deputy Attorney General Robert Stewart said.

The two victims sat in the courtroom but declined to comment until after the case is closed.

One expert valued the items they bought between $600,000 and $800,000. Two other appraisals arrived much lower, Stewart said.

As part of his plea deal, Moeller is required to tell investigators what happened to the rest of the collection. Prosecutors are recommending that he not serve time in jail.

“He essentially is going to tell us the whole story,” Stewart said.

Police accused Moeller, who owns John's Trading Post in Canonsburg, of removing items from the collection of Robert Connell.

The collection he amassed during 40 years was valued at $4 million to $6 million, court documents state.

The wife of Connell's son, Gregory, and her daughter told police they sold the items to Moeller from 2008 to 2012 when he prepared documents stating they were executors of Robert Connell's estate, even though he is still alive, court records state. Artifacts he reportedly acquired, which investigators listed on 28 pages, included guns, muskets, a sword, hats, uniforms and a pair of boots.

Stewart said some of the items were authentic antiques while others were reproductions.

Police seized 22 items from Moeller's business, including percussion pistols and rifles, gun cases, scopes and a box containing 62 brass knuckles and switchblades, court records state.

Moeller pleaded guilty in 2003 to corruption of minors and statutory sexual assault, convictions which resulted in him being prohibited from possessing firearms, Stewart said.

“That includes antique firearms,” he said.

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or jcato@tribweb.com.

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