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Man charged in historic bells theft in Nesquehoning

Nesquehoning police have made an arrest in the theft of two historic bronze bells at the borough’s historical society.

According to a release from Nesquehoning Police Department, Luis Ivan Ocasio, 35, of Hazleton has been charged in the case.

Police said Ocasio took two bells - one over 200 years old and weighing approximately 1,400 pounds, and the other over 100 years old and weighing approximately 200 pounds - from outside the historical society on West Railroad Street and sold them to a metal recycling center for $5,575.33.

The theft occurred in broad daylight on April 2 an investigation revealed; however, police were not notified until April 6, when society members went to open the museum for the monthly open house and noticed the bells were missing. A stand, where the smaller bell sat, remains in front of the building.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, officer Carl Breiner responded to the call. He then began reaching out to neighbors to see if there were any witnesses, as well as called several scrap yards and recycling centers to report the theft and see if the bells had been sold.

The owner of a recycling center in Hazleton contacted Breiner and told him that he purchased the bells on April 2, however by the time that he was notified that the bells were stolen, they had already been broken down and shipped out with other metal.

The business owner provided police with the contact information of the person who brought the bells and offered surveillance footage from that time period. The person identified at that time was Ocasio.

Officers made contact with Ocasio on April 7. He told them that he had been “set up” and agreed to be interviewed by Nesquehoning police to provide information on the person who was the alleged thief and claimed that the bells were in a secure location; however he never showed up at the station.

Ocasio later called the recycling center owner and asked if he could “make the bells disappear.” He told Ocasio that he would cooperate with police in the matter.

Police said that the investigation remains open and active, pending the identification of the remaining suspects.

The Nesquehoning Historical Society posted on its Facebook page that the arrest “is truly moving this investigation in the right direction of justice.

“We are very grateful to the Nesquehoning Police for the hard work they have put forth into this horrible situation that occurred in our own town,” the society’s statement said. “They and other agencies have really been onto this crime.

We will have our day in court ... when we will pack the courtroom and let everyone know you don’t do this in Nesquehoning and not suffer the consequences.

“These bells were so much more than just bells. They called the children to school and the faithful to church. They happily rang for weddings and tolled slowly for death. They sounded joyfully at the end of National Wars.

“They are sadly mistaken that they just took bells. When they committed this crime they stole our heritage.”

Ocasio faces one felony county each of theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, theft of secondary metal and institutional vandalism.

He is free on $250,000 unsecured bail. He faces a preliminary hearing before District Judge Beth Dodson on April 24.

Assisting Nesquehoning police were the Carbon County District Attorney’s office and Hazleton City Police.

One of two bronze bells sits behind the Nesquehoning Historical Society sign in 2020. This bell is the larger of the two that had been stolen earlier this month. It weighed approximately 1,400 pounds. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO
The smaller of the bells sits on the back of a truck in 2015, when Nesquehoning borough gave the bell to the Nesquehoning Historical Society for display. This bell was also stolen from the society. TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO