US presidential historian Barry Landau, known for his huge collection of memorabilia, was indicted on Thursday on US federal charges along with his assistant for stealing and selling historical documents.
Barry Landau, 63, and his 24-year-old assistant Jason Savedoff were due to make an initial appearance yesterday in US District Court in Baltimore, Maryland, where bail was set for US$500,000 and US$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The pair were charged earlier this month with stealing dozens of historical documents from museums in Maryland and New York, and selling them for a profit from December last year until this month.
According to the indictment, Landau and Savedoff took several historical documents on Dec. 2, including seven “reading copies” of speeches given by former US president Franklin D. Roosevelt from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library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 US$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 US’ “founding fathers,” to US 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 about 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 former US president Abraham Lincoln. Prosecutors valued those documents at US$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“The indictment alleges that Barry Landau and Jason James Savedoff conspired to steal irreplaceable historical documents from museums and sell them for personal profit,” US Attorney Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.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,” Rosenstein said.
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.
Landau, who claims to be “America’s Presidential Historian,” has made regular TV appearances discussing presidential issues.
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