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Star Wars collection in Petaluma targeted in theft

A Georgia man is charged with stealing more than $200,000 worth of action figures and other items from a Petaluma-based Star Wars memorabilia collection that is considered the largest of its kind in the world.

Carl Edward Cunningham, 45, of Marietta, Georgia, is accused of the theft from Rancho Obi-Wan, a nonprofit museum founded in 2011 that is home to more than 400,000 pieces including dolls, movie props and other fan gear.

Cunningham is alleged to have taken about 120 items during visits last year and in 2015.

Among the pieces are a vintage Boba Fett playing card and a Millennium Falcon Lego set worth thousands of dollars on eBay, said Steve Sansweet, who owns the collection and had been a friend of Cunningham’s for 20 years.

“These things have just soared to ridiculous values,” said Sansweet, a former Lucasfilm fan relations chief who started his collection in the 1970s. “It surprises even me.”

Cunningham was arrested in February and charged with felony grand theft. He is free on bail as he awaits a June 27 preliminary hearing before Judge Elliot Daum.

Neither he nor his lawyer, Amy Chapman, returned calls Monday seeking comment.

He faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

Sansweet said Cunningham had been a friend since the mid-1990s and had full run of the museum on his frequent visits. He is accused of taking less visible items packed away in boxes that could not be seen on the museum’s public tours, Sansweet said.

“He knew it would take a while for us to realize these things were stolen,” Sansweet said.

Earlier this year, a smaller Texas collector traced items stolen from him to a Southern California dealer. It was later discovered that dealer had also purchased items stolen from Sansweet, he said.

“It’s just devastating,” Sansweet said. “I’ve known this guy for 20 years. He’s like part of the family.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com.

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