Monday, May 14, 2007

Mariner's Museum Archivist Sued for Thefts

The Mariner's Museum in Newport News, VA has filed a civil suit for $1.35 million against a former archivist, Lester Weber, and his wife Lori Childs. The five-count lawsuit alleges that Weber and Childs conspired to "remove an estimated $160,000 worth of property from The Mariners' Museum and then sell the goods" on eBay, according to the Daily Press.

"The couple is also accused of permanently altering historical documents belonging to the museum so that they could claim control of the property."

"The museum is seeking $250,000 in compensatory damages, $750,000 in three-fold damages and $350,000 in punitive damages." (Well, I guess if criminal charges won't result in any punishment, going after the checkbook might be a useful strategy). Under Virginia law, the paper notes, the museum "can sue Weber and Childs for three times the amount of damages it claims to have suffered by the couple's alleged conspiracy. It also can seek reimbursement of legal fees."

Weber worked at the Mariner's Museum from 2000 through last September, when he was "dismissed." Museum officials did not tell the paper what materials Weber reportedly stole or altered, but seemed to indicate that they may have been uncatalogued items.

The Newport News police department is also investigating the thefts, the Daily Press report notes. Federal authorities may also be involved.

WVEC's Mary Nelson also reported on the Weber case Friday; she spoke with both Weber and his wife, who denied the accusations leveled by the museum. Weber told Nelson "I would never have stolen, never would steal from an employer. I really enjoyed working at the place. I don't understand where this is coming from." Childs told Nelson she was included in the suit "Because I am the one who had the ebay account. It's my whole little pocket money."

Nelson adds: "
We checked out eBay finding bluprints [sic] of naval ships ... not originals, but duplicates from originals. And because the lawsuit claims Weber and Childs 'permanently altered' archival items, we asked museum officials if they believe Weber and Childs duplicated museum documents and sold those on eBay, but we received no clear answer."

If the latter scenario is what this turns out to be, it could make this case a very notable one to watch. I'll keep my eye on it.

[h/t Everett Wilkie, Ex-Libris]