Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Barry Landau's guilty plea

Sorry about the radio silence around here. Owing to a family situation, I was away from home, work, and the Internet for a while . . . which means that I'm probably the last archivist in the country to find out that on 8 7 February, presidential documents collector Barry Landau pled guilty to federal charges of stealing and conspiring to steal cultural heritage materials from the Maryland Historical Society, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Connecticut Historical Society, the New-York Historical Society, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library.

Landau and his young associate, Jason Savedoff, who pled guilty to identical charges last year and whose sentencing has been deferred indefinitely, were apprehended last year after eagle-eyed staffers at the Maryland Historical Society realized that the two men were acting suspiciously and called the Baltimore police, who found numerous purloined documents in Savedoff's possession. A subsequent search of Landau's Manhattan apartment brought to light more than 10,000 documents, some of which were clearly stolen and most of which were likely obtained illicitly.

The terms of the plea deal were submitted to the U.S. District Court last month, and the public portion of the agreement is now accessible via Public Electronic Access to Electronic Court Records (PACER). I've uploaded a copy of the public section of the agreement (a supplemental document remains sealed) and have embedded it below. It sheds some additional light into the manner in which Landau and Savedoff identified materials they wished to steal, provides information about Landau's likely sentence, and discusses the fate of the materials found in Landau's apartment.

Barry H. Landau Plea Agreement 2012-01-12

A small part of me wishes that Landau had insisted on a jury trial. I was kind of looking forward to reading (and posting) trial transcripts; they promised to be a rich source of information for archivists seeking to foil future Landaus and Savedoffs. However, I realize that this wish is, in many respects, a selfish one. The broad outlines of Landau and Savedoff's methods and techniques have been known for some time, and the transcripts most likely would have been full of details that were interesting or even titillating but not particularly helpful to anyone seeking to avert future thefts. Moreover, a trial would place a real burden on people who are already shouldering heavy loads. I'm glad that my colleagues at the Maryland Historical Society won't have to go through the time-consuming and stressful experience of testifying in court and that my colleagues in the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration's Office of the Inspector General will be able to focus on identifying the rightful owners of the materials found in Landau's apartment, not on preparing evidence for trial.

As far as Barry Landau himself is concerned, in an odd sort of way he's gotten the fame and public attention that he seems to have sought all throughout his adult life: his name and face have been seared into the memories of an entire cohort of archivists, manuscript librarians, history curators, honest researchers, and other defenders of cultural heritage. Once the prison doors clang shut behind him, he'll have a lot of time to contemplate the ironies of his situation and the results of his life's work.


Shlee said...

It was Feb 7th :)

l'Archivista said...

Indeed it was. Thanks for catching that typo!

Brittany Turner said...

Archivists have the tools they need to combat most thieves; the willingness, on the other hand, seems to be sorely lacking, despite situations like this.

I'm continually disappointed in the many organizations with substantial resources that are seemingly incapable of broadly addressing and sharing information between repositories and facilitating growth in the field of holdings protection and recovery. We get in our own way. I'm starting to think that the psychological impact of theft and the inability to move beyond that immediate visceral reaction experienced in the aftermath of a theft, even if an organization believes it has sufficiently healed, are the culprit of this almost complete inertia and virtual sabotage.