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Press Release

Montgomery County Man Sentenced for Stealing Rare 1775 Rifle from Valley Forge State Park Museum in the 1970s

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Pennsylvania

PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams announced that Thomas Gavin, 78, of Pottstown, PA, was sentenced to one day in prison, three years of supervised release with the first year to be served on home confinement, a $25,000 fine and was ordered to pay $23,385 in restitution by United States District Court Judge Mark A. Kearney for selling an antique rifle dating back to the American Revolution that he had stolen from a local museum.

In July 2021, the defendant pleaded guilty to an Information charging him with a single count: disposal of an object of cultural heritage stolen from a museum. As part of his guilty plea, Gavin admitted that he had stolen the Christian Oerter Rifle from the Valley Forge State Park Museum in 1971.  The rifle is a rare surviving 1775 rifle made by Christian Oerter, a master gunsmith from the Christian Springs Philadelphia-area gun-making center. The rifle is known to be one of two such rifles to have survived with its original flint mechanism bearing the maker’s name, site and date of manufacture, and is worth in excess of $175,000. The other Christian Oerter rifle is in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle in England.  Gavin also admitted that he kept the rifle for over 40 years and sold it in 2018, along with other items that he had stolen from museums back in the 1970’s. 

“Stealing an artifact from a museum – literally a piece of American history – is a serious federal offense,” said U.S. Attorney Williams. “After four decades, justice finally caught up with this defendant. Thanks to the work of our law enforcement partners, the Christian Oerter rifle is safely back where it can be enjoyed by all Americans.”

“Thomas Gavin kept the stolen Oerter rifle squirreled away for decades, depriving all of us of this Revolutionary piece of our past,” said Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “It is way past time for Mr. Gavin to be held accountable for his actions. This case is a great example of the FBI’s commitment to protecting and preserving the cultural property that helps tell the story of our nation.”

The case was investigated by members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Art Crime Team and detectives with the Upper Merion Township Police Department, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney K.T. Newton.


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Philadelphia, PA 19106

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Updated November 23, 2021