Friday, June 01, 2007

Former Curator Charged in Atlas Theft

More today on the theft and recovery of the Rockland County Historical Society's 1823 Tanner atlas. Former curator Rebecca Streeter-Chen, 50, surrendered to New City, NY police yesterday and was charged with second-degree grand larceny, according to a report in the Lower Hudson Journal News.

Prosecutors recommended $10,000 bail be levied against Ms. Streeter-Chen, but "Clarkstown Justice Joel Flick set her bail at $5,000 cash or bond. She is to return to Town Court for a felony hearing Monday." A plea of not guilty was entered on her behalf by the judge; Streeter-Chen had not retained an attorney as of yesterday.

Streeter-Chen's husband, Mel Chen, told reporters outside the courthouse "I did it. I have kind of a drinking problem. I didn't know what it was. It could have been a loaf of bread. ... I corresponded on the e-mail. She found out I was doing this. She wanted to take the thing back. I guess they were waiting." The email correspondence referred to is between the thieves and Christopher Lane of the Philadelphia Print Shop, which led to the recovery of the atlas (see this post for more on that operation).

Police say Mr. Chen's story doesn't explain why it was his wife who showed up in Philadelphia trying to sell the book. They believe she stole the atlas, and said that the email address used in the correspondence with Lane "contained the name 'Rebecca Streeter'". Fine, I say - clearly they were both involved - add a conspiracy charge and lock up the pair.

Rockland County Historical Society officials said that while the 1823 atlas was usually stored in a secure vault, it had been removed on the day it was stolen. President Thomas F.X. Casey told the paper "It's tragic that a former employee apparently took advantage of inside knowledge to betray our trust. I am shocked."

The newspaper report reveals that Ms. Streeter-Chen, who worked at the Rockland County Historical Society from 2004 through late in 2006, is also employed at the William Trent House
in Trenton, NJ as "collections curator." That museum did not return calls seeking comment on Ms. Streeter-Chen. One hopes they were too busy checking their collections to see what's gone missing.

More to come after the hearing on Monday, I'm sure.