N.Y. collector, partner have bail reduced in historic-document theft case

Prosecutors allege one document was flushed down toilet

July 26, 2011|By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun

Jason Savedoff may not have just stolen notable documents from the Maryland Historical Society, as police have charged, but prosecutors say he may have flushed at least one down a toilet as police closed in.

Assistant State's Attorney Tracy Varda told a judge Tuesday that the document could not be recovered and it is not clear what it was.

The new twist came during the first of separate Baltimore Circuit Court bail hearings for Savedoff and Barry H. Landau, a New York collector of presidential memorabilia, who were arrested earlier this month and each charged with theft over $100,000. One of the documents reported taken was signed by Abraham Lincoln.

Judge Stuart Berger set bail for Landau at $500,000 and for Savedoff at $750,000.

Since their arrests, the FBI has searched Landau's Manhattan home on West 57th Street, and other archives and historical societies have audited their holdings for missing materials. The curator of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania said the two had visited there more than a dozen times.

Varda alleged during one of the court hearings that documents were also stolen from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Archives in Hyde Park, N.Y., as well as from the New York Historical Society.

Berger ordered that should the suspects post bail, they must surrender their passports. Savedoff holds dual Canadian and American citizenship.

Landau and Savedoff were charged July 10 after police said Savedoff was seen slipping a document into a portfolio, then walking out of the downtown library. Police officers searching a locker said they found 60 documents in a laptop bag.

Police and prosecutors put the value of the documents at tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars. But Landau's attorney, Andrew C. White, told Berger that he had a "sneaking suspicion" that the value of these items is significantly lower than described in court documents.

"At the end of the day, nothing in this case was taken," White said after the hearing, noting that the documents never left the historical society.

White said evidence showed only that his client was "guilty of being there" and that a second person was the one who tried to steal the materials. Landau signed out the documents under his own name, White said. "If they're missing, it's going to come right back to him," he said.

White argued for bail to be set at $20,000, saying his client was not a flight risk or a threat to other people. In addition, Landau is unlikely to commit other, similar crimes if he leaves custody, because he is well known. "He can't walk into a library and get anything," the defense attorney said.

Savedoff's attorney, Larry Nathans, said during the hearing that his client has Crohn's disease, is a college graduate with a degree in psychology and is an accomplished violinist. He also described Savedoff as a "slight" male with no allegations of violent crime.

Nathans said his client's mother was staying at a motel and had pledged to get an apartment in Maryland so he would remain within the state.

The prosecutor asked bail for Landau be set at $6 million, cash only, saying he had shown "zero respect for history and this country. … "Given his character, I would think he would have no respect for the court system."

Berger said he took into account Landau's age, 63, and lack of a prior criminal history, but also the severity of the charges he faces and his New York residence.

"Violent criminals typically get bails exponentially lower than this man, in this case," White said after the hearing.

Varda asked that Savedoff be held without bail, telling the judge the suspect has a history of using aliases, has had several addresses in recent years and has Canadian citizenship. She also said that Savedoff may have flushed the document down the historical society's toilet.

The prosecutor said he was in the bathroom when police arrived, and they knocked on the door repeatedly. When the door opened, two officers and a historical society employee went in. The employee noticed what looked like remnants of an old document in the toilet, Varda said, but was not able to get to it immediately.

But before the scraps could be retrieved, someone used and flushed the toilet, Varda said.


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