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Rare document thief sentenced to year in prison

  • Article by: JESSICA GRESKO
  • Associated Press
  • November 9, 2012 - 6:16 PM

BALTIMORE - A man who helped a presidential memorabilia collector steal rare and valuable documents from historical archives and libraries nationwide was sentenced Friday to a year and a day in prison.

Jason Savedoff acknowledged in a plea deal earlier this year that he helped his mentor, Barry Landau, research and steal documents. Savedoff, now 25, and Landau, 64, would visit the collections and secretly put documents in hidden pockets of their jackets and overcoats.

Their thefts were exposed last year after they were caught stealing from the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore. Landau pleaded guilty and was sentenced in June to seven years in prison.

On Friday, Savedoff's lawyer Larry Nathans urged the judge to give his client probation, not prison time. Nathans said Savedoff was suffering from an untreated bipolar disorder when he met Landau and was young and impressionable — "the perfect pawn," the attorney said, used by Landau, whom he called "a real con man."

After his arrest, Savedoff also helped investigators recover more stolen items that were missed during an initial search of Landau's apartment in Manhattan, Nathans said. During a second search, Savedoff guided investigators to additional items. He has also described the pair's methods to investigators and has talked with institutions about how to spot theft attempts, Nathans said.

The documents the pair have acknowledged stealing included copies of speeches delivered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during his three inaugurations, a land grant signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861 and a document signed by President George Washington. Government prosecutors valued the group of documents at between $400,000 and $1 million, though some are irreplaceable.

Prosecutors have said that it is likely that Landau began stealing items as early as 2003. Savedoff acknowledged conspiring with Landau beginning in 2010, and prosecutors have previously said they referred to each other as "weasel 1" and "weasel 2." Savedoff's lawyer said Friday that Landau approached his client at the gym and befriended him during a difficult period in Savedoff's life.

"I'm really, really sorry," Savedoff said before he was sentenced. "I should have never been involved with any of this, and I truly apologize."

Judge Catherine C. Blake, who also sentenced Landau, called the pair's crimes "a very serious offense."

"What we are talking about is the theft of unique, irreplaceable parts of our country's history," she said, adding that researchers would likely find access to historical collections more restrictive as a result of the pair's thefts.

The judge said she couldn't see sentencing Savedoff to probation alone, but she did sentence him to less time than recommended by federal sentencing guidelines. Savedoff will also repay approximately $16,000 he earned from the sale of stolen documents.

An FBI spokesman said about 30 percent of the stolen documents has now been returned to their rightful owners. Landau and Savedoff acknowledged stealing items from numerous museums including the New York Historical Society, the Connecticut Historical Society, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, NY.

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Jessica Gresko can be reached at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko

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