Former National Archives Employee Sentenced for Stealing Historical Records

Thousands of Audio Recordings Stolen from the National Archives, Including the Hindenburg Crash, a Babe Ruth Interview and the First Nationally Televised World Series

May 3, 2012

Greenbelt, Maryland - U.S. District Judge Peter J. Messitte sentenced Leslie Charles Waffen, age 67, of Rockville, Maryland, a former employee of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) for over 40 years, today to 18 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release for embezzling government property in connection with an eight year scheme to sell historically significant sound recording discs on eBay that he stole from the National Archives. Judge Messitte also entered an order requiring Waffen to forfeit 4,806 sound recordings seized from his home. A hearing will be scheduled in the next 90 days to determine the amount of restitution to be paid by Waffen.

The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Inspector General Paul Brachfeld of the National Archives and Records Administration - Office of Inspector General; and Postal Inspector in Charge Daniel S. Cortez of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service - Washington Division.

“This is one of two cases prosecuted in Maryland involving the theft of historical items by people who were trusted to handle them without supervision, “ said U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein. “Leslie Waffen was a high-ranking government employee who violated his duty to protect historical records of the National Archives and Records Administration. These items were entrusted to the National Archives to be used by all citizens, not to be auctioned for personal profit to the highest bidder.”

According to Waffen’s plea agreement, Waffen was employed by NARA from 1969 to June 3, 2010. He served as chief of the Motion Picture, Sounds and Video Recording Branch of the Special Media Archives Services Division from 2005 to June 3, 2010.

In 1975 and 1976, Waffen processed a donation made to NARA by a radio engineer at CBS, NBC and the Mutual Radio Networks of more than 3,000 individual original sound recordings. Each recording was given a unique NARA item number.

On September 28, 2010, Waffen sold an original master copy of a Babe Ruth voice recording, which captures Ruth hunting on December 10, 1937, on eBay for $34.74. Law enforcement agents recovered the recording from the buyer. NARA item number 2172 was visible on a paper sleeve containing the recording. The recording was one of the items donated to NARA and processed by Waffen in 1975 and 1976. Waffen sold additional items belonging to NARA on eBay on September 17 and 29, 2010, and October 13, 2010.

Law enforcement executed a search warrant at Waffen’s home on October 26, 2010 and seized 6,153 individual sound recording items. Pursuant to his plea agreement and to subsequent admissions, at least 3,073 of these sound recording items belonged to NARA. Additionally, the government stated in court that it believes Waffen stole an additional 682 items from NARA, for a total of 4,806 sound recordings recovered from his home. Agents also seized documentary evidence that showed that between at least August 2, 2001 and October 26, 2010, Waffen sold and shipped 1,051 additional sound recording items belonging to NARA.

Many of the items Waffen stole were of significant historical interest, including broadcasts of: a live 1937 interview of Babe Ruth while quail hunting in New Jersey; a September 12, 1924 transcontinental defense test phone call which was simultaneously broadcast throughout the United States; Herbert Morrison’s eyewitness report of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster; and the first World Series to be televised on a national network, in 1948, and announced by famed sportscasters Red Barber, Tom Hussey and Van Patrick.

Judge Messitte determined at the sentencing hearing today that the amount of loss resulting from the scheme is $83,238.

In another federal prosecution now pending in Maryland, Barry Landau and James Savedoff pleaded guilty for stealing historical documents from museums in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut, including “reading copies” of speeches delivered by President Franklin Roosevelt, letters written by Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and President George Washington, and a land grant signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended NARA OIG and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorney Arun G. Rao, who prosecuted the case.

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