By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun
8:30 PM EDT, July 28, 2011
The two New Yorkers charged with stealing historic documents from Maryland were indicted federally Thursday in a far broader scheme in which prosecutors say they stole many more valuable manuscripts from museums in both states.
A National Archives official called the scope of the case "truly breathtaking," with the indictment charging that the two men pilfered and sold copies of speeches from a former president and took a land grant signed by Abraham Lincoln along with a letter to John Paul Jones.
Barry H. Landau, 63, a well-known collector of presidential memorabilia, and Jason James Savedoff, 24, were each charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of the actual theft of "major art." They face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
The men were previously charged with theft in state court after a Maryland Historical Society employee said he saw Savedoff, who had been accompanied by Landau, swipe a text from the library on July 9. Police later recovered 60 documents stashed inside library locker No. 7, to which Savedoff held the key.
The new charges allege that the men — one a self-promoting name-dropper who claims to have hobnobbed with presidents, the other a relatively unknown less than half the age of his alleged accomplice — were engaged in a wider-reaching theft scheme than originally thought, with several victims across at least two states.
"While our Archival Recovery Team has recovered thousands of records during my tenure, the scope and notoriety of what we have seized and secured in this case is truly breathtaking," according to a statement by Inspector General Paul Brachfeld of the National Archives and Records Administration.
Brachfeld said he expects more holdings to be recovered as the investigation continues.
The six-page indictment alleges that, from December through July, the pair stole:
• Seven annotated copies of presidential speeches from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y., later selling four of them for a total of $35,000.
A 1780 April Fools' Day letter from Benjamin Franklin to John Paul Jones, held at the New York Historical Society.
Dozens of documents from the H. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, including a land grant from President Abraham Lincoln to a soldier from the Maryland Militia, War of 1812.
Landau's Baltimore lawyers, Andrew White and Steve Silverman, declined to comment on the indictment Thursday, other than to say they knew it was coming. Savedoff's attorney did not return a call seeking comment last night.
Federal marshals are expected to take custody of the men, who are now being held in a state detention center, Friday morning. The Maryland theft charges will likely be dropped then as well, Silverman said.
Savedoff and Landau will have an initial appearance in Baltimore's U.S. District Court on Friday, followed by a detention hearing, which will likely be held sometime next week, the attorneys said.
It's unclear what the relationship is between the two men. They appeared to travel to various museums as a pair, frequently showing up with sweets: cupcakes in Maryland and cookies in Pennsylvania.
Those who met them describe the duo in mentor and muscle terms. Landau "had class," while Savedoff was "rough around the edges," said a senior director at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which the two men visited 17 times over a six-month period.
"We're all madly combing through our materials to see if there's anything missing and if we can reclaim anything," said Kim Sajet, president of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
The men are not accused of stealing anything from the Pennsylvania archive, though the FBI has asked museums throughout the country to check their records for signs of Savedoff and Landau.
They visited the Connecticut Historical Society four times in 2011, according to Richard Malley, head of research and collections, which has sent the staff into "reviewing mode, big time," he said, "through all of the various collections that Barry Landau and Jason Savedoff used."
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement that the alleged scheme "should send a wake-up call to museums that entrust valuable documents to persons who claim to be engaged in academic research."
Many are now reviewing their security procedures, trying to find a better balance between public access and protection.
The indictment says the two men researched which locations had the most valuable materials, "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."
They then visited the locations, and stole "objects of cultural heritage from the collections, which they subsequently sold or intended to sell," according to the charging document.
Savedoff, who lives on the 700 block of West End Ave. in New York, sometimes used the aliases Justin Ward and Jason James, the indictment says, while Landau traded on his name's cachet.
He calls himself "America's Presidential Historian" on his website, barryhlandau.com, which features photos of him with stars such as Catherine Zeta Jones and Katie Holmes, along with presidential wives and presidents, including Gerald Ford, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan.
He claims to possess one of the largest collections of Oval Office memorabilia outside of presidential libraries and museums in his West 57th Street apartment, which features a china collection from Thomas Jefferson's inauguration. And he's written a coffee-table book about White House meals.
He's been profiled by The Washington Post and the Associated Press. But reporters, who once buoyed his reputation, have begun to chip away at the facade in recent days.
He claimed to have traveled to Moscow with Nixon, helped plan George W. Bush's second inauguration, and to have been a White House fellow during Lyndon B. Johnson's administration, but there's no record of any of it, The Washington Post reported this week.
FBI investigators raided Landau's New York home after his arrest in Maryland.
"The federal government will provide a firm and swift response to those that steal parts of our nation's history for their own private benefit," Richard McFeely, the special agent in charge of Baltimore's FBI field office, said in a statement. "Alleged crimes like this rob all Americans of the rich heritage that these museums preserve for present and future generations."
Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Baughman contributed to this article.
Items reported stolen:
• Dec. 2: A number of historical documents, including seven "reading copies" of speeches given by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Treasury secretary, from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, N.Y. Prosecutors say he sold four of the copies for a total $35,000.
• March 17: A letter dated April 1, 1780, from Benjamin Franklin and John Paul Jones, from the New York Historical Society.
• July 9: Sixty documents from the F. Furlong Baldwin Library at the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore, including a land grant dated June 1, 1861, to a soldier from the Maryland Militia, War of 1812, signed by Abraham Lincoln.
Source: Maryland U.S. attorney's office
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