Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hayes Library Thefts (Plus Updates)

- First, there's a new theft case to report. The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center (Fremont, OH) was hit by book thieves earlier this summer, losing two early books of Northwest Territory laws: Laws of the Territory of the United States North West of the Ohio, (published in 1796, this is known as the Maxwell Code), and Laws of the Territory of the United States North West of the River Ohio, (published in 1798, and known as the Freeman Code). These volumes, both early Cincinnati imprints (the Maxwell code is considered the first book printed in what would become Ohio), are quite rare, and together are valued at c. $130,000.

This was a remarkably brazen theft (or actually, pair of thefts). On 27 June, Joshua T. McCarty, 31, and Angela K. Bays, 19, (both of Columbus, OH) visited the library and requested the books (which were boxed together). Somehow McCarty managed to get the books into the women's bathroom (?), which he was seen exiting. A library staffer confronted McCarty and thought that he had recovered the items, only to discover later (in early September, in fact) that the text block of the Freeman code had been removed from its "cover" and was missing.

Here's where it gets weird. On 25 August, Zachary A. Scranton, 21, (of Marysville, OH) entered the library and requested to view the Maxwell Code. According to the Columbus Dispatch report, "He was unable to provide identification, but he agreed to turn over his backpack as collateral. When library staffers were distracted by other business, Scranton fled with the book. The backpack was found to be stuffed with paper towels." Investigators say McCarty paid Scranton $300 to steal the item.

According to court documents, cell-phone records show a call from Scranton to McCarty on the day the Maxwell Code was stolen. McCarty says that he sold the Freeman Code "to a collector in England for $35,000 through a rare-book dealer in Philadelphia." The Toledo Blade reports that the Maxwell Code was recovered in Columbus this week.

Each member of the trio has been charged with charged "with stealing from a museum an 'object of cultural significance' more than 100 years old or valued at more than $100,000." They'll be arraigned in federal court next week: "McCarty and Bays are scheduled to appear Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Toledo. Scranton is scheduled to appear Wednesday. Bays and Scranton were released on bond, but McCarty remained in jail in Toledo yesterday," says the Dispatch.

McCarty's got quite a rap sheet already. He was arrested in 2007 for the theft of more than $20,000 worth of maps from Canaday Old and Rare Books in Harrisburg, PA, as Tony Campbell notes (no word on the disposition of that case) and the Dispatch adds that he was just indicted (4 September) "on charges of forgery, receiving stolen property and possessing criminal tools. The indictment alleges that McCarty obtained a check stolen from bookseller TextbooksRus and used it to forge a check for $562 in December. He has not made a court appearance on the charges."

It's unclear just how tough prosecutors will be on the two accomplices, but they certainly ought to take the opportunity to throw the book at McCarty, who is clearly exhibiting a pattern of brazenly illegal behavior here. The maximum punishment for the charges filed so far is a ten-year prison term and a $250,000 fine, although it seems possible that conspiracy charges could also be filed. Stay tuned on this one.

Before I move on, though, a word about the Hayes library's security procedures (or severe lack thereof). The media reports about this case note that "the library ... now requires a photo ID from anyone reviewing rare books. Such requests were previously left to the discretion of staff members." After all the thefts we've seen in the last few years, any library which has rare books/manuscripts in its collections and is not taking even minimal precautions like checking photo IDs, keeping permanent records of visits and items examined, keeping a staff member in the room with visitors at all times (how did McCarty get the book into the bathroom?!) and not allowing outside materials into the reading room (Scranton's backpack should have been taken away as a matter of course) frankly has no business being responsible for such materials.

- Now, on to other recent theft news. You'll remember Lester Weber, the former curator of the Mariners' Museum who pleaded guilty in June to charges of theft, mail fraud, and filing false tax returns (his sentencing is set for 7 November). Weber's wife, Lori Childs, has now also entered a guilty plea, the Daily Press reports. She admitted Wednesday to filing a false tax return for 2005, and will face up to three years in prison when sentenced on 15 December. The U.S. Attorney's office prosecuting the case says "Weber and Childs filed U.S. individual income tax returns, which failed to list any of the receipts earned through the sale of items on the eBay Web site. For the tax year 2005, Weber and Childs failed to report approximately $50,307.02 in proceeds made to the eBay sales, and identified total income of $40,800 on their joint U.S. income tax return."

- And there's news on yet another of the theft cases we've been following this year: James Brubaker, whose guilty plea on charges of interstate transportation of stolen property plus possession and sale of same, was finalized in late June, will be sentenced tomorrow, the Great Falls Tribune notes (remember, Travis has predicted a 15-21 month sentence, although I hope he's really lowballed that). The Tribune story (which has good background on the case) quotes a police investigator as saying that about 800 of the 1000 books recovered from Brubaker's home back in December have been identified as the property of about 100 specific libraries; authorities plan to begin returning those materials after Brubaker's sentence is handed down.

So that's where we are today. I'll have more on Brubaker's sentence tomorrow as soon as I hear something, and will continue to follow the McCarty case as it moves forward.