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Other Infamous Thieves Who Pillaged Libraries, Part VI

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After pleading guilty to stealing documents, a judge sentenced self-proclaimed presidential historian Barry H. Landau to seven years in prison in June of 2012. Landau was a New York City publicist who built a reputation for hobnobbing with presidents and movie stars, acted as a liaison between politicians in Washington, D.C. and entertainers and reporters in New York City and Hollywood.

Landau became a commentator for both C.N.N. and N.B.C.’s The Today Show. In a profile of Landau in The Washington Post back in 2005, Timothy Dwyer spoke with Curator Larry Bird at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, actors William Baldwin and Brian Dennehy, and the socialite and actress Dina Merrill.

He had amassed the large collection of memorabilia from presidential inaugurations in private hands. He wrote The President’s Table, published by HarperCollins in 2007, which is still in print.

On Saturday, July 9, 2011, Landau visited the Maryland Historical Society with his associate, aspiring model Jason Savedoff, whom he had introduced to the staff as his nephew, and presented cupcakes for the staff. Hiding behind open laptop computers, they hid documents in their pockets and bags. After one staff member witnessed Savedoff steal a document, a policeman found pieces of documents in a toilet in a washroom at the facility in which Savedoff had locked himself.

A police officer found sixty documents in Savedoff’s laptop case in a locker. According to Adam Clark Estes, the Maryland Historical Society staff called this episode the “Great Cupcake Caper.”

In July of 2011, Baltimore prosecutors charged him with stealing sixty documents from the Maryland Historical Society worth over $100,000. Some of these documents had been signed by President Abraham Lincoln.

In 2011, Justin Jouvenal and Roxanne Roberts (with help from staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins) wrote in The Washington Post, “Baltimore prosecutor Tracy Varda said in a detention hearing that authorities suspect the pair has been swiping such bits of history for about a year. She said that police found documents from the National Archives, Connecticut Historical Society and Vassar College in a locker linked to the two and that there is evidence Landau sold stolen documents for $35,000 to a dealer. And she said Landau’s associate may have ripped up historic papers and flushed them down a toilet before his arrest.”

Jouvenal reported that Ms. Varda further stated in court that investigators believed Landau stole original speeches from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York and sold them to a New York City dealer. Investigators discovered a Benjamin Franklin letter belonging to the New-York Historical Society in Landau’s apartment.

Bob Currie, husband of Bill Clinton’s former personal secretary, Betty Currie, told the Post, they had declined Landau’s 2009 offer to organize their Clinton memorabilia collection, but after he was a houseguest they discovered a book of Clinton’s signed speeches was missing. Back then, Landau denied taking it.

On November 13, 2012, The Hartford Courant’s Edmund H. Mahoney reported that after Landau and Savedoff pled guilty to charges, a judge sentenced Landau to seven years in prison and Savedoff to a year and a day. “Barry Landau, 64, author, presidential scholar, collector of memorabilia and self-described intimate of presidential families, was sentenced to seven years in prison earlier this year. His assistant, Jason Savedoff, 25, an aspiring Canadian model, was sentenced last week to a year and a day. They met in a New York gym and, until their arrests, shared Landau's Manhattan apartment.”

Mahoney further reported that the Connecticut Historical Society would recover “dozens of rare documents – among them letters by George Washington, Marie Antoinette and Napoleon Bonaparte – stolen by a pair of society thieves who removed a truckload of similar pieces from museums on the East Coast.”

On May 27, 2013, The Baltimore Sun’s Jessica Anderson reported, “Authorities continue to reunite more than 10,000 items "of cultural heritage" to museums and libraries along the East Coast that were targeted by Landau and his assistant Jason Savedoff. This month the Maryland Historical Society has received about one-third of 60 documents stolen.”

I started writing about disgraced library director Marino Massimo De Caro in September of 2013. The previous year, Lorenzo Norhagi, Minister for National Heritage & Culture, appointed him Director of the Biblioteca Statale dei Gerolamini (State Library of Gerolamini).

The Ministry of National Heritage & Culture runs the library, the second-oldest in Italy, which is part of the National Monument Girolamini.[1] After finding the place in a disarray, Tomaso Montanari,a professor at Federico II University and newspaper columnist, circulated a petition demanding that Minister Norhagi remove De Caro from office.

On April 19, 2012, police seized control of the library and began a formal investigation of De Caro. They arrested De Caro and the curator, Fr. Sandro Marsano, and began to investigate Senator Marcello Dell’Utri and Maria Grazia Cerone in May of 2012. The prosecutor, Giovanni Mellilo, charged Fr. Marsano had allowed De Caro’s confederates (“unauthorized persons, selected in advance by Massimo De Caro”) “uncontrolled access” to conservation rooms.

On March 15, 2013, a judge sentenced De Caro to seven years in prison and banned him from ever holding public office again. On August 28, 2013, Professor Montanari recounted in a newspaper article that in September of 2011, just three months after Minister Galan appointed him Library Director, De Caro had chosen to sell books he stole through the auction house Zisska & Schauer and delivered 600 volumes to his accomplice, Luca Cableri, an antiquarian bookseller in return for the sum of €1,000,000 and the understanding he would receive more money after the auction through an intermediary in Switzerland.

According to Zisska & Schauer’s own account, before they could hold an auction in May of 2012, an intermediary offered the auction house a consignment of more than 400 books, which they included in Catalog 59. On the eve of the auction, the Bavarian State Criminal Police confiscated some of the books to be sold at auction because they were believed to have been stolen from the Library of Gerolamini, and since several of the books the police confiscated were from the consignment of over 400 books, as a precaution the auction house set aside all the books from that consignment.

In July of 2012, Munich police arrested Executive Director Herbert Schauer on a European arrest warrant issued by Italian authorizes. In other words, the Italian criminal justice system holds him culpable instead of considering him a dupe.

On June 20, 2014, Brita Sachs reported on the Web site of Frankfurter Allgemeine that a Neapolitan court found Herbert Schauer guilty of illegally exporting cultural property from Italy as well as participating in embezzlement and sentenced to five years in prison. As for the auction house, it states that on Wednesday, August 6, 2014, Schauer parted ways with the company and it re-organized under Freiderich Zisska and Wolfgang Lacher as Zisska & Lacher Buch-und Kunstauktionshaus GmbH & Co. KG.

In August of 2012, Elisabetta Povoledo recounted in The New York Times that two American scholars had identified instances when De Caro was connected to the sale of books that seemed to be forgeries of books by Galileo. Nick Wilding, Assistant Professor of History at Georgia State University, believed that two copies of Galileo’s Sidereus Nuncius – one that had appeared in a 2005 Sotheby’s catalog and another that had been offered for sale in New York City – were forgeries.

The Sidereus Nuncius (“Starry Messenger”) originally published in 1610, presents some of Galileo’s most revolutionary discoveries. Through his telescope, he had discovered the moons of Jupiter and saw craters and mountains that covered the Earth’s moon.

The one in New York supposedly had Galileo’s inscription and was illustrated with four of his watercolor paintings, but both it and the one from the Sotheby’s catalog had markings that indicated to Professor Povoledo they were copies of a 1964 facsimile edition of Sidereus Nuncius. De Caro had tried to sell this copy to Owen Gingrich, Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and the History of Science at Harvard and Senior Astronomer Emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

Professor Gingrich concluded Galileo could not have produced the watercolors because of an “astronomical blunder.” Gingrich and J. Franklin Mowery, Head of Conservation at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., have detected other forged books, including three copies of Galileo’s Le Operazioni del Compasso Geometrico e Militare, at least one of which De Caro had passed off as an antiquarian book.

In the December 13, 2013 issue of The New Yorker, investigative journalist and author Nicholas Schmidle interviewed De Caro. In “A Very Rare Book,” Schmidle tackled De Caro’s crimes with a focus on the forged copy of Sidereus Nuncius.

Schmidle visited De Caro at his villa, where he had been under house arrest since August, awaiting a second trial on charges of conspiracy and looting. In addition to looting what the judge believed to be millions of euros' worth of books from the Gerolamini Library, De Caro has admitted to stealing books from the library of the adjacent convent and the library of the famous Montecassino Monastery (where St. Benedict of Nursia founded the Benedictine Order).

A judge has frozen De Caro’s bank accounts; his two BMWs; his villa, which he purchased for €1,250,000 in 2009; artworks; and personal collection of rare books. De Caro described how he’d dropped out of the University of Siena and gained an interest in rare books, learning the intricacies of the trade. When Schmidle asked him outright how he had forged the Sidereus Nuncius, De Caro replied that he “wanted to create a joke.”

[1] The Congregation of the Oratory is a preaching order rather than a teaching order, but it sponsors many schools. The Oratorians named the church and monastery complex in Naples in honor of the Church of San Girolamo della Carita in Rome, where St. Philip Neri (1515-1595) built his first Oratory. The Oratorian Fathers are sometimes called the Girolamini or Gerolamini.

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