Students arrested in theft

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NEWPORT, R.I. (AP) – Four college students have been charged or arrested for stealing items worth more than $100,000, including vases and a mantel clock, from a seaside mansion that was once railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt’s summer “cottage.”

Investigators believe the students from Salve Regina University, just up the road from the Renaissance-style palace, stole several items during two break-ins at The Breakers mansion on Friday and Saturday. They drove the stash to Maine, then brought it back to Rhode Island when they realized police were questioning fellow students, police Lt. Michael Brennan said Wednesday.

Eric Fudge, 18, of Boxford, Mass., and Joseph Sullivan, 18, of Scarborough, Maine, were arrested Tuesday after abandoning the collection near a large trash bin at a public beach, Brennan said.

They were charged with breaking and entering and were released Wednesday after posting $500 bail each. They did not enter a plea. The men’s attorneys declined to comment after the court hearing.

William C. Elliott, 18, of Peabody, Mass. and Avery W. Lloyd, 19, of Portland, Maine, were arrested Wednesday afternoon and would be held overnight until their arraignment Thursday morning on the same charges, Brennan said. He said Elliott and Lloyd were involved in the Saturday break-in. It wasn’t clear Wednesday evening whether Elliott and Lloyd had legal representation.

University officials have begun disciplinary proceedings against Fudge and Sullivan, a school spokesman said. The school did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Wednesday evening on whether it planned to discipline Elliott and Lloyd.

After the break-ins, mansion officials reported missing a Louis XVI-style mantel clock, a bronze Tiffany obelisk, a glass vase, three silver vases, a candelabrum and a bronze cast figure by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Later, mansion officials discovered two of the silver vases had been moved before the break-in and were not taken, said John Rodman, the society’s director of marketing.

Trudy Coxe, executive director of the Preservation Society of Newport County, which operates the Breakers, said Wednesday afternoon that most items have been recovered, including some not initially reported missing – a silver inkwell, two books and a bust of Hermes, the Greek god of trade and profit. Still missing is the obelisk, and Rodman said the society is sure it’s gone.

Coxe said she is pleased to have the items back but called the students’ behavior appalling.

“They stole from a national historical landmark,” she said.

“These weren’t art thieves,” Brennan said. “They just took what was visible to them. I don’t think there was a huge master plan.”

The Breakers was undergoing repair work that may have undermined its security system. The mansion, modeled after the 16th century Italian palaces of Genoa and Turin, is one of the most-visited attractions in Rhode Island and hosts 300,000 visitors annually.

Brennan said police got a break when the university’s security director overheard a snippet of conversation that he reported to detectives. He would not elaborate.

Fudge and Sullivan planned to make an anonymous phone call to authorities so the objects could be returned but were arrested before the call could be placed, police said.

The mansion is nestled along a mile-long stretch of Newport coastline dotted with opulent mansions and is not far from Rosecliff, the house that served as the setting for the 1974 film version of “The Great Gatsby,” starring Robert Redford.

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