Baltimore document thief sentenced to year in prison

Jason James Savedoff (Right) leaving the Federal Courthouse, with his lawyer, Larry Nathans (Left). The younger of the two accused historic document thieves pleads guilty in federal court, and reveals details about the heist, as well as the relationship between Savedoff, an aspiring model, and his mentor, Barry Landau. Savedoff is pictured leaving the Federal Courthouse in Baltimore.

The younger of two men who admitted to stealing a wealth of culturally significant documents was sentenced Friday to a year and a day in federal prison, ending the prosecution of a case that began at the Maryland Historical Society and rattled archives, museums and libraries across the continent.

U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake said the sentence reflected the valuable cooperation of Jason James Savedoff, 25, in identifying and recovering thousands of stolen items. But it also reflected his participation in the thefts of materials that are part of the nation's history and are worth up to $1 million.


Among the items taken were a land grant signed by Abraham Lincoln and a letter to 18th-century naval hero John Paul Jones.

Savedoff, once an aspiring model, sat in the Baltimore courtroom with his chin down as defense attorney Larry Nathans described him as a mentally ill young man with a head full of conspiracy theories. In the spring of 2010, he met Barry H. Landau, 40 years his senior, in a gym, Nathans said.


Landau took advantage of Savedoff's vulnerability, plied him with lies of his powerful connections and made never-kept promises to help him — and drew him into his scheme of stealing historical treasures, Nathans said.

"He told him the whole plot was supported by the CIA," Nathans said.

Landau, 64, is at a medium-security federal prison in North Carolina, serving a seven-year sentence.

The relationship between Landau and Savedoff remained unclear, but information revealed at Landau's sentencing in June pointed to a complex, if affectionate, bond. It showed that Landau tumbled from being a respected historian to a criminal caught in a series of lies.

Andrew White, who was Landau's attorney, declined to comment Friday. But at Landau's sentencing, White said Savedoff pushed Landau to commit bigger crimes.

The scheme unraveled last year after two employees at the Maryland Historical Society became suspicious of the men and saw Savedoff take a text. They called police. Before long, it was discovered that about 60 documents from the archive in Baltimore lay in a locker with materials from other libraries.

Savedoff's cooperation with authorities after his arrest in July 2011 provided lessons to archives and museums on how to better protect their treasures from theft, information that changed security nationwide, Nathans said. Savedoff apologized for his role in the thefts but said nothing more at the sentencing.

Federal prosecutor James Warwick credited Savedoff for helping investigators after his arrest, leading them to conduct a second search of Landau's Manhattan apartment for items they missed. Savedoff also showed them suit coats outfitted with fake pockets used to sneak stolen documents out of archives, and he helped identify many of the items' owners.


Warwick said Savedoff showed them how he and Landau used a variety of tools to "perform surgery" on the documents to remove markings that would have linked them to their owners.

Nathans said Savedoff, whose family includes several people who were mentally ill, has since been in psychiatric treatment, performed about 300 hours of community service and worked at a restaurant. He suggested probation, noting that his client suffers from Crohn's disease, a digestive disorder, and needs a restricted diet.

Blake said that while she did not think Savedoff would have become involved in the thefts if not for his mentor, he deserved to be punished.

"When Mr. Savedoff agreed to help Mr. Landau steal these valuable documents and this irreplaceable history, he crossed the line," Blake said.

Savedoff is to report to prison Jan. 28 and must pay more than $16,000 in restitution. Savedoff had faced a maximum of 15 years in prison and up to $500,000 in fines.

Federal prosecutors and Nathans described Landau as the mastermind of the scheme, though both he and Savedoff pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal and sell priceless historic documents from archives along the East Coast.


Investigators say the scheme to steal cultural property was extensive, and they have described it as the largest known theft of national memorabilia.

More than 10,000 items "of cultural heritage" were seized from Landau's Manhattan apartment, and National Archives and Records Administration investigators have been working to find the owners. More than 6,500 have been confirmed as stolen, and the process to return them to their owners is continuing.

Among the documents are texts attributed to Napoleon, Beethoven and George Washington.

Among those seated in the courtroom Friday was Pat Anderson, library director of the Maryland Historical Society. She said her professional world hasn't been the same since the thefts.

"For us, no more jackets in the reading room," she said.

"We always watched [visitors]. We watch differently now," Anderson said."We are more aware. I hope that suspicion goes away."


Nearly a dozen relatives and friends of Savedoff's were in the courtroom. They declined to speak afterward.