Thursday, June 28, 2012

Barry Landau sentenced

Yesterday, Barry Landau, the prominent collector of presidential memorabilia who was caught stealing documents from the Maryland Historical Society last July, was sentenced.  He'll spend the next seven years in a federal prison, pay approximately $46,000 in restitution to dealers who unwittingly purchased stolen documents from him, and forfeit all of the historical documents found in his Manhattan apartment after his arrest.  After his release, he'll be on probation for three years.  One of the conditions of his probation:  he has to stay away from libraries and archives.

Landau's sentencing memorandum has been entered into Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER), but access to it is limited to the judge and the attorneys involved in the case.  However, today the Baltimore Sun published a lengthy article that features a brief video of the prosecution's sentencing presentation and photographs of some of the documents that Landau and his accomplice, Jason James Savedoff, stole from various repositories in the eastern United States.  The Associated Press's coverage of the sentencing notes that prosecutors also displayed Landau's blazer and trench coat, both of which had extra-large pockets added by Landau's tailor, and the Washington Post reports that prosecutors believe that Landau may have started stealing documents as early as 2003.

Prosecutors and Landau's attorneys differed as to whether Landau masterminded the thefts.  Shortly after the sentencing, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a press release asserting that Landau, a seasoned collector and researcher, was the driving force behind the thefts:
According to evidence presented at today’s sentencing hearing and court documents, Landau had been stealing presidential documents and ephemera to add to his collection for years before he met Savedoff and it was Landau who schooled Savedoff in the complex scheme of historical document theft. After researching collections on the internet, Landau used e-mail to identify for Savedoff the titles and locations of collections that contained documents that were ultimately stolen during the course of the conspiracy. Landau developed protocols to distract curators while items were pilfered, scheduled visits to repositories and requested access to collections containing marketable documents. It was Landau who dealt exclusively with purchasers of stolen items.
The release also sheds new light on the scope of Landau's criminal activity.  It's been widely known for months that Landau and Savedoff stole documents from the Maryland Historical Society, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, the Connecticut Historical Society, the University of Vermont, the New-York Historical Society, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, but the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration's Archival Recovery Team, which has been leading the effort to trace the origins of the more than 10,000 historical documents found in Landau's Manhattan apartment, has uncovered evidence of additional thefts:
At the sentencing, prosecutors introduced new evidence that Landau stole at least one item from the William McKinley Presidential Library and Museum in Ohio in 2005; from 17 to 100 items from the Culinary Arts Museum in Rhode Island in 2008; and more than 250 items from Betty Currie, former White House Secretary, in 2010. Agents seized more than 10,000 items from Barry Landau’s residence in New York in July and August 2011, and more than 6,000 of those items have been identified as stolen property.
At roughly the same time as the Department of Justice issued its release, Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White, the firm representing Landau, issued its own press release arguing that Savedoff, who met Landau in 2010, had manipulated a reluctant but deeply lonely man into doing things that he otherwise would not have done:
"As the numerous emails and documents [entered into evidence] reflect, Savedoff constantly pushed Landau to help him in his quest to, in Savedoff's words, '(F) the World,'" said [Steven D.] Silverman, Managing Partner of Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White. "With laser-like precision Savedoff 'targeted' Landau for his connections and exploited his vulnerabilities to carry out his plan to steal and sell documents."
"As the evidence clearly shows in this case, Savedoff's and Landau's goals were completely different. Savedoff wanted money; Landau wanted menus," Silverman added. 
Given that the release implies that Landau and Savedoff stole only 300 documents and quotes Silverman as describing Landau as "one of the nation's foremost historians," I have to say that Landau and his attorneys make a perfect team:  all of them seem to have difficulty differentiating between the world as it actually is and the world as they wish it were.

Jason Savedoff's sentencing date has yet to be set and the Archival Recovery Team will no doubt continue to devote a lot of time and effort to identifying the rightful owners of the huge trove of documents found in Landau's apartment, so this sad, shocking tale is still unfolding.  For the staff at the repositories Landau and Savedoff preyed upon, it is a tale without an ending:  their professional lives won't ever be quite the same.

If you would like to know more about Landau's life and criminal career, be sure to read Eliza Gray's profile of Landau, which appeared in the New Republic in December 2011, and Justin Snow's lengthy May 2012 Baltimore article, which details how archivist David Angerhofer and other Maryland Historical Society staffers caught Landau and Savedoff stealing documents from their repository.

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