Crime

Former top aide to Fisher treasure-hunting enterprise busted for stealing valuable historic coins from his boss

A Key West man, who until April was the top assistant to treasure-hunting heir Kim Fisher, stole two coins valued together at $46,000 from his bosses and tried to sell them to a California dealer he found on eBay, police said. 

Joe Sweeney, 55, was arrested Friday night on a felony theft charge after an investigation began in April into two Escudo coins that went missing two years ago from a fourth-floor office of the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, 200 Greene St.

That office belongs to Lee Fisher, chief executive of the museum and married to Kim Fisher, a son of the late salvor Mel Fisher and CEO of the various Mel Fisher Family Enterprises. 

Lee Fisher didn’t file a police report in 2014 because she didn’t want any negative publicity and believed the coins would surface on the market at some point, according to police reports obtained Monday by the Keynoter.

Three minutes after being booked into the Stock Island jail, Sweeney had posted $50,000 bond and was released, according to jail records.

Sweeney told police he bought the coins from someone he wouldn’t identify at a bar in Key West and that Kim Fisher was with him and was offered the coins first but declined –- a story Fisher denied to detectives. 

Fisher called police to her home April 1 to report a California dealer named Joe Bissell had phoned the museum asking about the two missing coins and their certification numbers after recognizing the shipwreck pieces as stolen, police said.

Bissell told police he had received two coins –- a gold piece of 4 and a gold piece of 8 –- in the mail from Joe Sweeney in Key West to appraise and possibly buy. 

Sweeney found Bissell’s company on eBay, police said.

On April 4, Sweeney, a longtime employee of the Fishers, resigned without any notice.

Sweeney’s home address is one of the Shipyard condominiums at 620 Thomas St., although property records show he isn’t the owner. 

That same Thomas Street address was used to ship the coins to Bissell’s Currency Grading and Certification Inc. in La Jolla, Calif., according to police, who had Bissell mail the coins to them.

“Bissell said he became suspicious when Sweeney told him he got the coins from one of Mel Fisher’s grandkids who owed him money,” according to Officer Julio Gomez’ report. 

Fisher said she had last seen the coins on her office desk on June 9, 2014, Gomez reported, and she noticed the next day they were missing. 

Sweeney, a New Jersey native, is known as Kim Fisher’s right-hand man, a designation given to him in a recent story in Harper’s Magazine.

Mel Fisher, who died in 1998, became a celebrity after his crew’s 1985 discovery of a 1622 Spanish galleon shipwreck about 35 miles off Key West. The yield included 47 tons of silver.

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