Map theft suspect in custody Hearing of warrants, Fla. man turns self in

January 05, 1996|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Gilbert J. Bland Jr., a Florida rare maps dealer suspected in the theft of valuable maps last month from the George Peabody Library in Baltimore and other rare books libraries, was being held yesterday by police in Coral Springs, Fla..

Police said Mr. Bland, 46, turned himself in Tuesday after learning of three warrants issued by University of Virginia police last month.The warrants charge him with felony grand larceny in map thefts from books at the university's Alderman Library on Dec. 5 and 6.

He remained in custody yesterday, awaiting an extradition hearing scheduled for today in Coral Springs, police said.

Ira Still, a Coral Springs attorney who represented Mr. Bland until his arrest, described his client as "very embarrassed, frightened and upset" about the Virginia charges. "He always maintained that [the theft at the Peabody Institute] was the only thing that he ever did."

Mr. Still said he was dismissed by Mr. Bland because "he said he could not afford an attorney."

Tom Durrer, an investigator with the University of Virginia police, said yesterday the missing 17th- and 18th-century maps are valued in the warrants at $200 "or more" until their worth can be more accurately established.

Historic maps and prints have become more valuable in recent years as demand has increased from collectors and decorators.

If Mr. Bland waives extradition, Mr. Durrer said, Virginia authorities will go to Florida and return him to Charlottesville. Arraignment is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 17 in Albemarle County General District Court.

The FBI also is investigating Mr. Bland, and has been in periodic contact with his attorney. No federal charges have been filed.

"We really cannot comment directly," said Special Agent Paul Miller, a spokesman for the FBI in Miami. "We've been working with local authorities, and any charges that can be brought by local authorities would be welcome. But they would not preclude any federal charges to be filed in the future."

Sgt. Jeff Maslin, a spokesman for the Coral Springs police, said they were contacted Tuesday by the University of Virginia police. After confirming the active warrants for Mr. Bland's arrest, and Virginia's willingness to extradite him, police contacted Mr. Bland's attorney.

"Within an hour, he came in with his client, and he turned himself in voluntarily," Mr. Maslin said. After his arrest, he was turned over to the Broward County Sheriff's Department.

Librarians at eight university libraries in North Carolina, Virginia, Chicago, Baltimore and Providence, R.I., suspect that Mr. Bland, using the alias James Perry and fake University of Florida student identification, visited their rare books collections in September or during the first week of last month. Books handled by Mr. "Perry" were all found to have been mutilated, mostly by the removal of rare maps, library officials said.

Mr. Bland was caught with a rare map and held briefly at the Peabody Library in Baltimore Dec. 7. But he was released after paying several hundred dollars in cash for the damage.

It was only later that Peabody officials realized that other books Mr. Bland handled that day had been damaged. They also learned later of similar damage to other rare books collections.

Dennis O'Shea, a spokesman for the Johns Hopkins University, which oversees the Peabody collection, welcomed the arrest.

"If the evidence points to this guy, we would very much like to see him prosecuted." Hopkins has been "ready to step in and file a state complaint if it turned out [the FBI investigation] was not going to be a fruitful one. It's not clear that has happened yet."

Until recently, Mr. Bland and his wife operated a rare maps shop in Tamarac, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale. The shop was closed and emptied eight days after Mr. Bland was caught in Baltimore.

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