Saturday 5 May 2012

Another Theft from US Collections the Collecting Lobby will not tell you about

The lobbyists for the no-questions-asked antiquities market often apply a two-wrongs-make-a-right approach to matters. They stress that in the "source countries" thefts sometimes take place, that "corruption" is rife there, and many museum thefts are due to poor security or are inside jobs (duh!)  and therefore we are invited to consider that precious things are better off not in the hands of the Wily Oriental Gentlemen but safe in private collections across the other side of the Atlantic. Of course what they do not let slip is the hardly insignificant fact that it is to sell them to such collectors (who will not ask too many questions) that the objects are stolen for in the first place (duh!).

On their blogs and websites, you will not find these lobbyists admitting that the US has its fair share (perhaps even more than its fair share) of such museum thefts. So - to present a fairer picture than you will find on their blogs - let us have a look at another sad case. This one involves the National Archives (it's the second such case involving the US national archives in the past year). 'Rockville man sentenced for stealing from National Archives', Gazette- Maryland Community News Online May 5th 2012:
Former National Archives official Leslie Charles Waffen, 67, of Rockville [...] received an 18 month sentence and a $10,000 fine in federal court for stealing from the agency thousands of historic audio recordings [...] and selling them on eBay.[...] “It became an obsession,” Waffen said of his work collecting and evaluating recordings for the archives. “I gave into temptation to take and steal and at times sell [the archive’s] property … I am deeply sorry.”[...] A total of 6,153 sound recordings were found in Waffen's house Oct. 26, 2010, at least 3,073 of which were stolen from the National Archives, according to Assistant United States Attorney Arun G. Rao, who prosecuted the case. Beginning on Aug. 2, 2001, Waffen sold on eBay at least 1,051 recordings for approximately $23,553, Rao said.[...] Waffen, who retired from his position as chief of the Motion Picture, Sounds and Video Recording branch of the archive's Special Media Archives Services Division in June 2010, began taking recordings without permission at least eight years before he retired, according to testimony.
The archives are so poorly guarded that officials did not learn of the thefts until nine years later, in September 2010 when J. David Goldin, a 69-year-old retired former record label owner and radio historian noticed a recording of Babe Ruth he had once donated to the archives was for sale on eBay. Goldin had donated the recording to Waffen himself nearly 30 years before.

See: Jessica Gresko, 'Connecticut Engineer Uncovers Theft Of Archive Records', CBS/Associated PressMay 5th 2012.

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