Collector pleads guilty to theft of thousands of documents

Tue Feb 7, 2012 6:34pm EST
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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A noted collector of presidential memorabilia pleaded guilty on Tuesday to stealing thousands of rare historical documents, including copies of speeches by President Franklin, from a presidential library and historical societies.

Barry Landau, 63, who had promoted himself as a U.S. presidential historian, pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal major artwork and theft of major artwork from December 2010 to July 2011. An accomplice who helped steal the documents pleaded guilty in October.

Authorities found 10,000 documents and other historical objects during a search of Landau's house last July and August. So far, they have determined that more than 4,000 were stolen from libraries and repositories, include documents signed by George Washington, John Adams, Franklin Roosevelt, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon Bonaparte, Karl Marx, and Sir Isaac Newton.

Landau sold four of the reading copies of speeches by Roosevelt for $35,000 to a collector. Such documents are copies of an address from which the president read, signed or initialed them, and sometimes had handwritten notes or corrections.

The two also stole documents from historical societies in Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland and New York. One item was a land grant dated June 1, 1861 signed by Lincoln that the Justice Department said was worth more than $100,000.

Landau and his co-conspirator, Jason Savedoff, sometimes stole the documents by hiding them in specially designed pockets in their clothing and by distracting museum curators. They also stole card catalogue entries to conceal the fact that the items existed and were missing.

Landau described himself on his website as one of the biggest collectors of presidential memorabilia and artifacts and had been interviewed many times on television networks.

The two men face up to five years in prison for the conspiracy charge and up to 10 years for stealing the documents. Landau is due to be sentenced on May 7.

The case is USA v. Landau, No. 11-cr-415, in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.

(Reporting By Jeremy Pelofsky)