An 18-year-old student in New Jersey has been arrested and charged with theft of an object of cultural heritage from a museum. The Drew University student worked at the United Methodist Archives Center on the campus and, during his tenure there, lifted 21 letters, among them:
- Letter from John Wesley to Father Merriweather from December 1766
- Letter from President Abraham Lincoln from May 1864;
- Deed signed by President Andrew Johnson from September 1865;
- Letter from President William McKinley to Bishop Fowler from November 1894;
- Letter from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from June 1935; Letter from
- President Franklin Delano Roosevelt from June 1945;
- Letter from President Dwight D. Eisenhower from February 1953;
- Letter from Madame Chiang Kai-Shek to Bishop Welch from April 1953;
- Letter from Vice-President Richard Nixon to Bishop Welch from May 1953; and
- Letter from Robert F. Kennedy to Bishop Welch from January 1967.
Each of which is valued between $5,000 and $12,000. The student’s theft was discovered only when he sent ten of the letters to a dealer in the UK, who figured from the shoddy packaging that something was amiss, and he called the Archives.
The student is being charged under the same criminal statute as was Steven Lee Olson, who stole Goya’s 1778 painting “Children With a Cart” while it was in transit from New York City to the Toledo Museum of Art, the latter of which owned the painting and had it insured for $1 million. Olson was able to negotiate a plea deal with the prosecutors, who agreed to a maximum sentence of five years imprisonment. The judge gave him that maximum sentence in 2008, saying Olson led the theft. His cohort received a year and a day. Compare these sentences to the lighter ones for similar crimes discussed in my article: Thieves Take a Page Out of Rare Books and Manuscripts.
Hat tip to LCCHP.