Criminal Justice News

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Barry Landau Sentenced to Seven Years in Prison for Stealing Valuable Historical Documents

New Evidence Reveals Broader Scope of Scheme, Which May Have Included More than 10,000 Stolen Items

BALTIMORE, MD—U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake sentenced Barry H. Landau, age 63, of New York, New York, today to seven years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for conspiracy and theft of historical documents from museums in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut, and selling selected documents for profit. Judge Blake also ordered Landau to pay restitution totaling $46,525 to three dealers who unwittingly purchased stolen documents from Landau, and to forfeit all the documents recovered during the searches of his New York apartment.

The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, National Archives and Records Administration; Inspector General Paul Brachfeld of the National Archives and Records Administration—Office of Inspector General; Baltimore Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III; and Baltimore City State’s Attorney Gregg L. Bernstein.

“The evidence proved that Barry H. Landau was a con artist who masqueraded as a presidential historian to gain people’s trust so he could steal their property,” said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “The revelation that Mr. Landau was a prolific thief sent a wake-up call to museums, libraries and other institutions that entrust valuable historical items to persons who claim to be engaged in academic research.”

U.S. Attorney Rosenstein added: “Purchasers who innocently buy stolen property do not gain lawful title and are required to return it to the rightful owner. Anyone who has information about historical documents obtained from Barry Landau should contact the National Achives Archival Recovery Team at 800-786-2551.”

“The success of this investigation is measured not just in bringing the guilty to justice but also in the return of numerous historical documents to the American people,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely. “What these documents stood for caused local and federal agencies to unite together to ensure that key pieces of our country’s history will remain forever accessible for our citizens.”

According to his plea agreement, from December 2010 through July 2011, Landau and his co-conspirator, Jason Savedoff stole valuable documents and manuscripts from numerous museums, including the Maryland Historical Society, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Connecticut Historical Society, the University of Vermont, the New York Historical Society and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, a component of the National Archives.

At the sentencing, prosecutors introduced new evidence that Landau stole at least one item from the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum in Ohio in 2005; from 17 to 100 items from the Culinary Arts Museum in Rhode Island in 2008; and more than 250 items from Betty Currie, former White House Secretary, in 2010. Agents seized more than 10,000 items from Barry Landau’s residence in New York in July and August 2011, and more than 6,000 of those items have been identified as stolen property.

According to evidence presented at today’s sentencing hearing and court documents, Landau had been stealing presidential documents and ephemera to add to his collection for years before he met Savedoff and it was Landau who schooled Savedoff in the complex scheme of historical document theft. After researching collections on the Internet, Landau used e-mail to identify for Savedoff the titles and locations of collections that contained documents that were ultimately stolen during the course of the conspiracy. Landau developed protocols to distract curators while items were pilfered, scheduled visits to repositories and requested access to collections containing marketable documents. It was Landau who dealt exclusively with purchasers of stolen items.

According to his plea, Landau and Savedoff used various techniques to steal the documents, including concealing documents inside sports coats and other outerwear, which were designed by Landau, and had been modified to contain hidden pockets. Once a document had been stolen, steps were taken to remove any marking or inventory control notations made on the document. A checklist was prepared for each stolen document which identified the author and date of the document; the collection from which it was stolen; whether the museum card catalogue had been collected; whether there existed any microfilm or other “finding aid” for the document at the museum; the nature of any markings on the document; and whether any museum markings had been removed from the document. Landau and Savedoff often took the card catalogue entries and other “finding aids,” making it difficult for the museum to discover that an item was missing.

Specifically, according to his plea, Landau and Savedoff visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York on December 2, 2010, and stole, among other things, seven “reading copies” of speeches delivered by President Roosevelt. “Reading copies” are the actual copies of the speeches from which President Roosevelt read, and contain edits and handwritten additions made by him, and bear his signature. Four of these “reading copies” of speeches were sold by Landau on December 20, 2010 to a collector for $35,000. Three other “reading copies” of the inaugural addresses delivered by President Roosevelt, valued at more than $100,000 each, were recovered from Landau’s apartment in New York City during court-authorized searches, including the water-stained reading copy of the inaugural address delivered by President Roosevelt in a steady rain in 1937.

On March 17, 2011, Landau and Savedoff visited the New York Historical Society in New York City, and removed several valuable documents, all more than 100 years old and worth in excess of $5,000. One document was a letter dated April 1, 1780 from Benjamin Franklin, then in Versailles, France, to John Paul Jones in reference to the delivery of quantities of gunpowder from the French to the United States Navy. This letter is valued in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Other documents stolen by Landau and Savedoff from the New York Historical Society include letters and documents authored by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and President George Washington.

On July 9, 2011, Landau and Savedoff visited the Maryland Historical Society, where Landau had provided the curators with a list of collections he wished to review in advance, stating that he was performing research for a book. Landau also provided the list to curators when he arrived at the museum. Landau and Savedoff accessed the various document and manuscript collections. Curators became suspicious of the pair, and were concerned that documents were being stolen. The curators summoned the police, who discovered that 79 documents had been secreted inside a computer bag located in one of the museum lockers. Savedoff had the key to the locker. A review of the documents by curators revealed that 60 had been removed from the collections of the Maryland Historical Society, including a land grant dated June 1, 1861 to John Lorn, Private Captain, Hannberts Company, Maryland Militia, War of 1812, signed by President Abraham Lincoln, which has a value well in excess of $100,000. The remaining 19 documents contained markings which identified them as being from collections maintained at the Connecticut Historical Society and other institutions.

The 6,000 items seized from Landau’s apartment that have been identified as being stolen from libraries and repositories throughout the United States, including documents signed by George Washington, John Adams, Franklin Roosevelt, Marie Antoinette, Karl Marx, Sir Isaac Newton will be returned to the appropriate museum, repository or owner.

Jason James Savedoff, a/k/a “Jason James,” and “Justin Ward,” age 24, of New York, New York, previously pleaded guilty to the same charges. No date has been set for his sentencing.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein praised the FBI, Baltimore Police Department, National Archives and Records Administration—Office of Inspector General, and the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys James G. Warwick and P. Michael Cunningham, who prosecuted the case.

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