A collector charged with conspiring to steal valuable historic documents taken from museums in Maryland and several other states is alleging that he was illegally arrested in Baltimore by city officers who lacked enough evidence to place him in custody.
Barry H. Landau, a well-known Manhattan collector, argues in papers filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore that it was his companion, Jason James Savedoff, who had sole possession of documents police found in a locker at the Maryland Historical Society in July.
The defense attorney, Andrew C. White, said in the court filing that officials at the society "did not observe Mr. Landau acting suspiciously, and he did not have any stolen documents in his possession or control."
White argues that police had no reason to suspect Landau of a crime, much less arrest him. The attorney says the FBI compounded the problem when agents applied for a warrant to search Landau's Manhattan apartment by writing in the application that city police found evidence on both his client and Savedoff.
"There was no probable cause to allow a search of his residence and all evidence seized at this apartment pursuant to the search warrant should be suppressed," White wrote in his motion. Attorneys have said in previous court hearings that the FBI seized more than 10,000 items from Landau's New York apartment.
Baltimore police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi declined to comment and referred questions to federal prosecutors. A spokeswoman for the Maryland U.S. attorney's office, Marcia Murphy, said her office also would not comment. "We will respond in our court filing," she said.
A hearing on the motion has not been scheduled.
At the time of the arrests at the Maryland Historical Society, city police said they found five dozen documents tucked into a laptop case inside a locker to which Savedoff had the key. But police also said that the documents had been checked out by Landau.
The charging document filed by Baltimore City police, before federal authorities took over the case, says that "numerous documents recovered out of Mr. Savedoff's bag had been signed out for examination by Mr. Landau who he was there with. At this point, Mr. Landau was also placed under arrest for the theft of the historical documents."
Landau, who is confined to his New York City apartment, is awaiting trial. Savedoff, 24, pleaded guilty to a charge of theft of major artwork and faces up to 15 years in prison. In his plea agreement, he told prosecutors that he acted at the direction of Landau, with whom he had lived. Prosecutors have said in court that Savedoff is cooperating with them.
The two were charged with stealing dozens of documents of cultural significance, including a land grant signed by Abraham Lincoln, a letter to 18th-century naval hero John Paul Jones and texts attributed to Napoleon, Beethoven, George Washington and John Hancock.
National archivists have called the scope of the thefts "truly breathtaking." Landau, who knew former presidents, helped plan inaugurations and claimed to possess one of the largest collections of Oval Office memorabilia outside of museums and presidential libraries.