The Curious Court Case of the Vanishing Rare Coins

Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Gage Skidmore
A rare coins dealer in Fountain Hills has filed a $1 million lawsuit against an old friend, alleging theft in a case that unexpectedly tapped a famous local bigwig.

Gerald "Jerry" Krigman filed a civil lawsuit in Maricopa County Superior Court in April 2021 alleging theft and fraud against his former worker and friend, 77-year-old Albert "Tony" Woodrel and his wife.

Their lawyers have denied any liability in the case and refute every allegation.

Krigman suspected Woodrel was stealing from him for years, according to interviews and the civil complaint in court.

He hired Fountain Hills private investigator Kelly Goar to find out what happened. She set up a secret video camera that recorded footage of Woodrel taking money from Krigman's bedroom.

"Based on information obtained through the course of his investigation, [Krigman] believes that [Woodrel and his wife] have stolen from him at least $300,000 in cash and rare coins," the complaint alleged.

Woodrel was arrested last year in the front yard of Krigman's Fountain Hills home, but he never faced charges.

Krigman is seeking more than $1 million in punitive damages on top of $300,000 he claims was stolen over time, plus $25,000 in legal fees. The complaint names Woodrel and his wife, Chris Nazarchuk, 68, as defendants in the suit.

Friends Before Foes

Years ago, Krigman packed up his cache of rare coins and migrated southwest from Massachusetts. He settled in a quiet, upscale neighborhood in Fountain Hills.

An eccentric and charismatic businessman, it didn’t take long for the 84-year-old coin dealer to make friends with Woodrel and Nazarchuk, fellow Fountain Hills residents with a taste for collectible coins.
click to enlarge Jerry Krigman, 84, runs his rare coin business out of his home in Fountain Hills. - KELLY GOAR
Jerry Krigman, 84, runs his rare coin business out of his home in Fountain Hills.
Kelly Goar

Krigman enjoyed 12 years of harmonious friendship with the couple from Michigan.

But then, according to the lawsuit, both coins and cash began to disappear from Krigman’s home on a street called Crested Crown.

Woodrel spent his career as an entrepreneur. He’s a licensed firearms dealer, state and federal records show. He also owned an investment business and a few contracting ventures, all in Fountain Hills.

Nazarchuk worked for her husband until Krigman offered her a new opportunity.

She managed Krigman’s online business, the eBay website he used to sell rare coins from his expansive collection. She was even named in Krigman's will, court records stated.

But this friendship soured.

By November 2019, things were unraveling. The revenue from Krigman’s eBay business was barely a third of what it had been year after year.

And by 2020, their friendship had collapsed.

“I trusted them,” Krigman said in an interview.

Krigman kept as much as $50,000 in cash in his home at all times, he and court documents claim. It’s a cash-only business, and he acquired new coins to sell on a weekly basis.

In 2019, Krigman had $50,000 in his bedroom when he left the house and $20,000 was missing when he returned, according to interviews and court records. His lawsuit alleges that the only people who had access to the home at the time were Krigman's live-in girlfriend and his employees.

But Woodrel described his former friend as careless in court documents.

"Krigman would regularly misplace or lose coins," Woodrel's attorneys said in one court filing. "These coins were out in the open and usually strewn about in various rooms."

Caught on Camera

In March 2020, Goar and Krigman watched security video footage of a husky white-haired man removing money from the bedside drawer inside the master bedroom of Krigman's Fountain Hills home.

That man was Woodrel, whose cowboy boots clicked distinctly as he walked along the concrete garage floor, video shared with Phoenix New Times shows.

Woodrel wore a sport coat and tie as he walked through the home during his unexpected visit. Then the video shows him rifling through a nightstand, twice removing cash from the bedroom, and collecting coins from the garage. Krigman had trusted Woodrel so much he gave him the garage door code to his home.

A wad of hundred-dollar bills totaling $1,000 was missing from Krigman's bedroom that day in early March, according to the police report. Investigators later matched the serial numbers on the bills to Krigman.

The Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office arrested Woodrel at the scene that same day on suspicion of felony theft, but cited and released him after he complained of high blood pressure, according to the police report. Woodrel told sheriff deputies that the money was a gift, court and police records show.

He and Nazarchuk ditched their Queen Creek attorney and hired prominent Phoenix law firm Wilenchik & Bartness to fight the case. The couple's attorney, Jack Wilenchik, said in an interview that he's holding to that defense.

A Gift Or Not?

Cuffed in the back of a squad car, Woodrel told Deputy Jesus J. Cosme that he had Krigman’s blessing to help himself to $1,000 for a trip to Tucson, according to police records.

Woodrel told deputies that Krigman was “telling a shitload of lies” but claimed he wasn’t sure how he got into the home.

“He had been arguing with his wife, so he had not been thinking straight,” according to the police report.

The video shows that, once inside Krigman’s home, Woodrel tried unsuccessfully to enter two locked rooms.

“I asked Tony what [was] in the rooms, and he stated $250,000 worth of coins,” Cosme wrote in his report.

Woodrel and Nazarchuk often kept some of Krigman’s coins in their own home in order to sell them.

“Tony said that if he wanted to steal coins from Jerry, he would do it from his own home and not Jerry’s,” the police report quoted him as saying.

But, when deputies confronted Woodrel and demanded he empty his pockets, he tried to hide the $1,000, according to the report.

“He said he was stressed and upset, thinking why he was getting arrested,” the report reads.
click to enlarge On security tape, Tony Woodrel is seen in the garage of Jerry Krigman's Fountain Hills home. - GOAR INVESTIGATIONS
On security tape, Tony Woodrel is seen in the garage of Jerry Krigman's Fountain Hills home.
Goar Investigations

No Jail, Judge or Jury Yet

The sheriff’s department referred a felony charge to the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office for consideration. Deputy County Attorney Jeremy D. Miller was the one who opted not to prosecute.

“We declined charges because of no reasonable likelihood of conviction at trial,” MCAO spokesperson Jennifer Liewer said, without elaborating, in keeping with department policy about commenting on open cases.

Not only did Miller decline prosecution, but the statute of limitations for town prosecutors to file criminal misdemeanor charges also ran out.

Fountain Hills Town Prosecutor Mark Iacovino was fuzzy on the details about the case but clearly remembered his reaction when Krigman pushed for a trial.

“I recall my having serious doubts about whether this case could be successfully prosecuted criminally,” Iacovino said.

The Scottsdale-based lawyer said that, in his experience, juries are less sympathetic to theft crimes that involve close friends. "That might have had an impact on" his decision, Iacovino said.

Friends in High Places

Wilenchik described the lawsuit as "salacious and false." He said Krigman is trying to "shame Woodrel into paying him without having to actually prove his claims to a judge or jury."

In a court filing, Wilenchik listed his former client, Fountain Hills resident and "America's Toughest Sheriff" Joe Arpaio as a prospective witness in the case.

The inclusion of the 24-year Maricopa County sheriff is an oddity. Arpaio says he doesn't know much about the case and both sides say he doesn't add much to it.

Said Wilenchik, "Arpaio has essentially nothing to do with the case. He’s just named by one of the parties as a character witness because they know him."

Wilenchik represented Arpaio during his dust-up in federal court over his criminal contempt conviction and, along with his father, Dennis, defended him against a racial profiling class-action lawsuit in federal court.

Dennis previously defended Arpaio in a case in which a federal judge found unconstitutional jail conditions under Arpaio's supervision, and helped him settle a wrongful death suit for more than $5 million in damages and legal fees.
click to enlarge Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. - GAGE SKIDMORE
Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Gage Skidmore
The lawyer's old client was more characteristically blunt about the latest court case.

"I had no bearing on anything that occurred," Arpaio said.

He said he knows Woodrel after meeting him at a gun show. Arpaio described the gun dealer as "a character," noting that Woodrel tried to help out on his mayoral campaign in Fountain Hills.

It remains murky why Arpaio was named.

Krigman's team has theories, only.

“This is strictly to intimidate us,” said Goar, the investigator. “I’m not sure what Arpaio could possibly add to this.”

Wilenchik denied that, as did Arpaio.

"I had no contact with the sheriff’s office about their investigations or anything they were developing, other than a couple of threats on me," Arpaio said.

The trial in the civil case is slated to begin in September 2022.
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Elias Weiss is a staff writer at the Phoenix New Times. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and law. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide.
Contact: Elias Weiss