Historic documents stolen, sold on eBay
- 30 January, 2008 11:21
An employee of the New York State Department of Education allegedly stole hundreds of historic documents and artifacts from the New York State Library and sold some of them on eBay, New York state's attorney general said.
The items included a signed 1823 letter from Vice President John C. Calhoun, The Davy Crockett Almanack, a calling card of Union Army Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock and Currier & Ives colored lithographs, according to a statement from New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo.
Daniel Lorello, 54, an archives and records management specialist with the department's Office of Cultural Education since 1999, was charged with third-degree grand larceny, fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property and first-degree scheme to defraud, which are all felonies, according to the statement. Lorello allegedly took the items from 2002 to 2007.
Lorello, of Rensselaer, N.Y., allegedly smuggled the documents out of the library. In a statement to investigators, Lorello said he used the library's online catalogs to pick out the items he wanted. When he received them, he would put them in a folder and walk out of the library. He said he was never questioned or challenged. Lorello was placed on administrative leave until the investigation concludes.
"These irreplaceable documents are the property of all New Yorkers," Cuomo said. "Public employees with access to records of New York State's vibrant history are trusted curators who must not abuse their power for personal gain. My office will prosecute any allegation that an individual has attempted to pawn off the state's property as their own."
One item posted for sale was a four-page letter to a New York general written by Calhoun in 1823.
According to the attorney general, Lorello's ad on online auction site eBay said, "All in all I think this is a super letter with excellent content and one that would make a great addition to any 19th century American political autograph collection ... ... I would say the letter is in very good shape considering it is almost 185 years old. 100% satisfaction is guaranteed. If you are dissatisfied with the letter for any reason simply return it within seven days for a no questions asked refund."
Cuomo said Lorello also listed other documents for sale on eBay, including a Currier & Ives lithograph depicting a "View From Fort Putnam, West Point Hudson River, N.Y." The ad said, "Other than some age toning to the lower left corner and along the top edge, the lithograph is in excellent condition. The back of the lithograph contains no markings other than an ink stain so I did not bother to scan it. If you would like me to scan it for you let me know and I would be happy to do so."
Investigators began monitoring the auction of the 1823 letter by Vice President Calhoun after Richmond, Va., attorney Joseph Romito, a former teacher and history enthusiast, informed state authorities that the item was for sale on eBay. Romito said he believed the letter was in the possession of the New York library system.
"I was interested in bidding on the letter, but as I read the letter and the transcription the seller provided, I was surprised by the political content of the letter," Romito said in an interview. "Usually things that are offered on eBay are autographs, someone signs a personal check or something, or in the case of politicians, an appointment to a military academy or something of that sort."
So Romito compared the letter against the printed edition of "The Papers of John C. Calhoun" and they were identical, he said.
"I then noticed that the printed edition said the letter was in the New York State Library in Albany, New York," Romito said. "I looked at the seller and he was in Rensselaer, New York, which I soon learned was just outside Albany, and then I became suspicious and I called the library the next day and alerted them."
Romito said although he spoke to library executives several times before the auction ended, he wasn't quite sure what they were going to do.
"Government works slowly," he said. "So I finally resolved to put a very high bid on the letter on the afternoon [the auction was to end] and I subsequently received a call from the library saying that the attorney general would bid on it. So I just stayed out of it and they outbid me just before the auction [ended]. My idea was that if they weren't going to bid on it, I didn't want someone else to get it. I wanted to hold it up until such time as I could contact the library again."
The attorney general said the Calhoun letter generated bids exceeding US$1,700 on eBay while it was monitored by investigators. Investigators also recovered hundreds of other documents that will be returned to the New York State Library. The attorney general said his office is working with eBay to obtain records of past sales to recover other stolen items.
In a separate case, Denning McTague of Philadelphia was charged with stealing 165 Civil War-era documents from the National Archives and selling them on eBay. McTague worked as a summer intern for the archives in 2006 and smuggled the documents off the premises in a backpack. The stolen items included an 1865 order from the War Department announcing the death of President Lincoln to the troops, and a letter from J.E.B. Stuart, a Confederate cavalry commander.