Document thief Barry Landau may have sold more of the national treasures he stole from museums — including the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, where his scheme unraveled — than previously thought, according to the National Archives inspector general, who said Wednesday that his investigators have uncovered new evidence.
Members of the agency's Archival Recovery Team are now targeting historic document dealers who illegally, if unknowingly, bought pieces from Landau for $500 to $6,000 apiece, based on the disgraced collector's own sales records, which were found during an FBI search of Landau's Manhattan apartment.
"We're giving them the opportunity now to play right" and return the goods, said Inspector General Paul Brachfeld, urging holders of stolen items to come forward before they're contacted. "We think it would be helpful for them, as businessmen, so to speak, to take the initiative."
Brachfeld declined to say what items were sold to whom or even how many, noting the ongoing investigation. He would say only that the documents were traceable to "names that every school child in America" knows and at least one "very historic president."
"At some point," he said, "we'll be able to say who's come forward and how profitable this has been and how we used Mr. Landau's own records to uncover what we" have.
Reached by telephone Wednesday, one of Landau's two Baltimore attorneys, Steve Silverman, said he couldn't comment on the new accusations.
"This is the first time we've heard of these allegations," he said.
Landau, once an esteemed collector of presidential memorabilia, pleaded guilty last month to conspiracy and "theft of major artwork," admitting in a lengthy plea agreement that he and an accomplice stole thousands of items from numerous East Coast museums.
More than 10,000 "objects of cultural heritage" — including letters signed by George Washington, John Hancock, John Adams, Karl Marx, Marie Antoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte — were recovered from Landau's home, according to court records.
But until now, only four sales had been publicly confirmed, though prosecutors said they suspected many more and feared that some items would be lost forever. Landau admitted in his plea agreement to selling to an unidentified collector four presidential speeches personally annotated by Franklin D. Roosevelt for a total of $35,000, and nothing else.
"We believe that there are lot of stolen documents that were sold, and stolen property still belongs to the original owner" — in this case, legitimate collectors, museums and historical societies, said U.S. Attorney for Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein. "We have a broader concern than just [prosecution and sentencing] and that is recovering the stolen property and returning it to the rightful owners."
Anyone who purchased the property knowing it was stolen could be prosecuted for conspiracy, he said, and even the uninformed "still have to give it back." As fraud victims, the latter group might be able to sue to recover the money they spent.
Brachfeld and Kelly Maltagliati, who heads the Archival Recovery Team, were reticent about the nature of the newly identified sales, which they say were discovered from "physical and computer records" kept in Landau's home.
"We are still developing leads," Maltagliati said, adding that she expects to learn of other sales as the process continues.
Her team, which has led the Landau investigation, began reaching out to dealers this week, making at least "one profitable trip to the Northeast" to recover goods, Brachfeld said. "We have a shopping list."
He noted that they have "limited staff, limited resources and limited funds," making recovery efforts difficult. The Archival Recovery Team has just four to five full-time members at any given time, and they've spent much of the past eight months sorting through the thousands of objects removed from Landau's apartment.
Brachfeld said he hopes that when word of their efforts spreads, it "shakes a tree and stuff starts falling into our lap."
Landau, 63, and his conspirator Jason Savedoff, 24, were indicted in July after the younger man was spotted stealing a text from the Baltimore-based archive. They were charged with taking dozens of documents, including a land grant said to be signed by Abraham Lincoln, worth more than $1 million. Investigators said in court proceedings that the scheme was far broader, however, describing it as the biggest theft ever of national memorabilia spanning museums on both sides of the Atlantic.
Savedoff pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and major art theft in October. A sentencing date has not been set; Landau, who is confined to his New York home under electronic monitoring, is scheduled to appear May 7. Each could be sentenced to up to 15 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.
Brachfeld said he expects the new sales information to be introduced during Landau's sentencing.
"It will be of definitive interest to the court," Brachfeld said, "because now you are able to demonstrate that the individual not only stole documents for his own pleasure, but that he benefited financially."
Anyone who believes they know of illegal document sales is asked to contact the National Archives and Records Administration at 301-837-3500 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, CT Now