Barry Landau Pleads Guilty to Stealing Valuable Historical Documents
Original Documents of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, John Adams, Franklin Roosevelt, and Others Stolen from Historical Societies and Museums
Baltimore, Maryland - Barry H. Landau, age 63, of New York, New York, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy and theft of historical documents from museums in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut, and selling selected documents for profit.
The guilty plea 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; 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.
According to his plea agreement, from December 2010 through July 2011, Landau and his co-conspirator, Jason Savedoff stole and otherwise fraudulently obtained 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. Landau and Savedoff targeted the document and manuscript collections at these museums based on the content of the collections or the potential monetary value of the contents.
Landau admitted that he and Savedoff prepared lists containing the names of historical figures and other noteworthy individuals, and made notations referencing the value of signatures and documents authored or signed by the listed individuals. Landau and Savedoff conducted research, including via the internet, to identify collections containing valuable documents, which, when located, were targeted for theft. Landau also used e-mail to identify for Savedoff the titles and locations of collections that contained document that were ultimately stolen during the course of the conspiracy. Savedoff used aliases when he visited certain libraries to protect the ongoing criminal scheme.
According to his plea, Landau and Savedoff visited numerous museums posing as researchers; accessed collections of documents which they had determined to be of significant value; reviewed the documents from the collections; and used various techniques to steal them. These techniques included concealing documents inside sports coats and other outerwear which had been modified to contain hidden pockets, as well as distracting museum curators to disguise their actions. 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. In an effort to conceal the theft, 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. Documents which had been copied on microfilm were often avoided because of the increased possibility the theft would be discovered by the library or repository.
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. Landau and Savedoff stole from the library, 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 the sum of $35,000. Three other “reading copies” were the inaugural addresses delivered by President Roosevelt on January 20, 1937, January 20, 1941, and January 20, 1945, which are valued at more than $100,000 each, were recovered from Landau’s apartment in New York City during court-authorized searches.
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.
On July 12, 2011, a search was conducted at Landau’s residence in New York City. A second search was conducted on August 2, 2011. Over 10,000 documents and objects of cultural heritage were recovered during the search. To date, over 4,000 of these items have been traced as being stolen from libraries and repositories throughout the United States, include documents signed by George Washington, John Adams, Franklin Roosevelt, Marie Antoinette, Napoleon Bonaparte, Karl Marx, Sir Isaac Newton and others.
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.
Landau and Savedoff face a maximum sentence of five years in prison for the conspiracy; and 10 years in prison for theft of the documents. U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake has scheduled sentencing for Landau on May 7, 2012, at 10:00 a.m.
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 are prosecuting the case.