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Acclaimed US historian indicted for document theft

29 july 2011, 17:34
0
©RIA Novosti
©RIA Novosti
US presidential historian Barry Landau, known for his huge collection of memorabilia, was indicted Thursday on federal charges along with his assistant for stealing and selling historical documents, AFP reports.

Barry Landau, 63, and his 24-year-old assistant Jason Savedoff were due to make an initial appearance Friday in US District Court in Baltimore, where bail was set for $500,000 and $750,000 respectively earlier this week. They face up to five years in prison for their conspiracy and 10 years for the theft.

The pair were charged earlier this month with stealing dozens of historical documents from museums in Maryland and New York, and selling them for a profit from December through July.

According to the indictment, Landau and Savedoff took several historical documents on December 2, including seven "reading copies" of speeches given by president Franklin D. Roosevelt from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in New York.

Reading copies are copies of public addresses read, signed or initialed by a US president along with handwritten notations.

Landau was also said to have sold a document taken from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in December to a New York memorabilia dealer for $35,000.

On March 17, the historian and his assistant then allegedly stole from the New York Historical Society a letter dated April 1, 1780, from Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, to American Revolutionary War naval fighter John Paul Jones.

The defendants turned their sights on the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society on July 9, snatching some 60 documents, including a land grant dated June 1, 1861, to a soldier from the Maryland Militia who fought in the War of 1812, and signed by president Abraham Lincoln.

Prosecutors valued those documents at $6 million.

The pair's lawyers did not immediately return a request for comment.

"The indictment alleges that Barry Landau and Jason James Savedoff conspired to steal irreplaceable historical documents from museums and sell them for personal profit," US Attorney Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.

"This scheme, which was exposed thanks to a vigilant employee of the Maryland Historical Society, a quick response by the Baltimore Police Department and State's Attorney's Office and a swift investigation by the FBI, should send a wake-up call to museums that entrust valuable documents to persons who claim to be engaged in academic research."

The men were arrested on July 9 after a Maryland Historical Society employee said he witnessed Savedoff hauling off a document from the group's library in Baltimore.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Richard McFeely vowed a "firm and swift response" to such crimes, saying they "rob all Americans of the rich heritage that these museums preserve for present and future generations."

Landau, who claims to be "America's Presidential Historian," has made regular TV appearances discussing presidential issues. His website claims "personal relationships" with presidents and their families, and shows him photographed with five US presidents.

His collection of presidential memorabilia contained over a million items, including 26,000 presidential menus and invitations, according to the website.

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