Prosecutors are uncovering more evidence against Barry Landau, who is accused of stealing documents worth millions from the Maryland Historical Society
A presidential historian has been scheming to steal valuable documents from archives throughout the Northeast for years — if not decades — and his release from federal custody could put more pieces of American history at risk if he tries to cover his tracks, a prosecutor argued Thursday.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan K. Gauvey approved the release of Barry Landau, 63, to his Manhattan apartment with GPS monitoring, but put the release on hold until another judge hears an appeal from prosecutors Friday afternoon.
Landau and his assistant, 24-year-old Jason Savedoff, are charged with stealing valuable historical documents from the Maryland Historical Society and conspiring to steal documents from other archives. The historian would use different routines to distract curators and had sports jackets and overcoats altered to allow him to stash documents inside large pockets, Assistant U.S. Attorney James G. Warwick said.
Warwick told the judge that the pair had some 80 documents. About 60 were from the Maryland Historical Society, including papers signed by President Abraham Lincoln worth $300,000 and presidential inaugural ball invitations and programs worth $500,000. The other documents were from the Connecticut Historical Society, Vassar College and the National Archives, Warwick said.
Investigators have twice searched the apartment Landau shared with Savedoff but are concerned that if Landau is released he could destroy documents elsewhere, Warwick said. Landau bragged that he had a storage space in the Washington, D.C., area where he had 30 times the number of paintings, documents and artifacts that he kept in his apartment — which Warwick described as "wall-to-wall" memorabilia.
"If we don't get to them first, they may be lost forever," Warwick said.
Landau's attorney, Andrew C. White, said that his client doesn't have any other repositories for documents and memorabilia, and if he said as much, it was only to boost his image.
A search of Landau's apartment last month turned up thousands of documents, Warwick said. National Archives workers have been cataloging the documents, and have determined so far that 200 belong to institutions, including Swarthmore College, the Smithsonian Institution, Yale University, Columbia University, the New York Public Library, Vassar College, Cambridge University, University of Vermont and the Library of Congress.
"These are priceless relics of history," Warwick said. "They're no longer available to the public. They've been converted for Mr. Landau's personal financial gain."
Warwick offered a peek into a "complex bundle of lies and deceit" he said the government has been uncovering. Investigators were told that Landau would offer to reframe paintings he admired in people's homes, and then return high-quality reproductions he commissioned and keep the originals, Warwick said.
If these accusations are true, there's little else to think but, "What a scumbag!"
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Prosecutor Urges Judge Not to Release Historian
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