Thief of historic documents sentenced to prison

Barry Landau to serve seven years in federal prison

  • Barry Landau and attorney Steven Silverman leave the federal courthouse after sentencing Wednesday.
Barry Landau and attorney Steven Silverman leave the federal… (Baltimore Sun photo by Tricia…)
June 27, 2012|By Tricia Bishop, The Baltimore Sun

Disgraced collector Barry H. Landau was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in federal prison for stealing thousands of historic documents worth as much as $2.5 million from archives along the East Coast, including one in Baltimore, where the scheme unraveled last summer.

The 64-year-old Manhattan resident, who for years fooled celebrities and political players into believing he had significant ties to the White House, was also ordered to pay $46,525 in restitution and to stay away from all archives and libraries after he is released.

"It's a very serious offense. We are discussing the theft of unique, irreplaceable parts of our nation's history," U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Blake said before handing down the sentence, which was at the high end of an advisory guideline range.

More than 10,000 "objects of cultural heritage" — including letters written by George Washington, John Hancock, Edgar Allan Poe and Benjamin Franklin — were recovered from Landau's New York apartment, according to court records. And 6,500 of them have thus far been confirmed stolen, prosecutors said.

No sentencing date has been set for his 25-year-old accomplice, aspiring model Jason James Savedoff, who, like Landau, previously pleaded guilty to theft of major artwork and conspiracy. Email exchanges between the two men, portions of which were revealed in court Wednesday, showed a complicated and affectionate relationship, with Landau guiding the younger man on the ways of the archivist's world and Savedoff testing his mentor's boundaries.

"My responsibility is to push you outside of your comfort zones," one message to Landau stated.

"Thanks for believing and ALL the unconditional love. ... I'm truly sorry I have so much baggage," an email to Savedoff said.

Wednesday's two-hour hearing completed Landau's fall from vaunted historian to criminal outcast, showing him to be a serial liar, sickly and alone. No one wrote to the court on his behalf, and it appeared no one showed up to support him during the sentencing. His lawyer, Andrew White, said he talks to Landau on the telephone almost every night, because he has no one else.

"His life's been ruined, by his own doing," White said.

Landau, who has until Aug. 27 to report for prison, spoke briefly before he was sentenced, rising from the defense table with the aid of a cane. He has lost vision in one eye, White said, and suffers from multiple ailments.

"I'm deeply ashamed of what I did and apologize to all those whose lives have been affected," Landau told the court. He said he was embarrassed and prepared to live with his shame for the rest of his life. "I can only hope to try one day to redeem myself for my actions."

He has claimed through the years to have been close to a half-dozen presidents, prosecutors said Wednesday, telling documentary filmmaker Ken Burns in a 2001 email that he was intimate with the Kennedys, had worked for Lyndon Johnson, once lived with President Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, and considered Dwight D. Eisenhower a "surrogate grandfather."

Landau told actress Julia Roberts in a 2006 email that his brother, uncle and cousin had all won Academy Awards, Assistant U.S. Attorney James G. Warwick said, adding that none of it was true.

"Mr. Landau has made a career out of being deceitful," Warwick said, saying that Landau has lied about his wealth, an affiliation with the CIA and involvement in planning White House events. "He has never served in any official capacity with any administration."

Many appeared to believe he had. The actor Brian Dennehy told the Washington Post in 2005 that Landau was his bridge to the White House. And Landau's personal website showed him in photographs with Barbara Bush, Al Pacino and Gerald R. Ford.

Bill Clinton's former White House secretary, Betty Currie, even took him into her home in 2010, letting him stay overnight. Multiple items went missing during the visit, including a book signed by Clinton and copies of presidential speeches, prosecutors claim.

"He brought one bag and left with three," Warwick said.

The prosecutor put on a multimedia presentation during Wednesday's sentencing showing a video of Franklin D. Roosevelt's rain-soaked inauguration in 1937 and passed more than a dozen recovered documents to the judge for review, including letters by Marie Antoinette, Karl Marx, Francis Scott Key and Thomas Paine.

Warwick portrayed Landau as the mastermind behind the conspiracy, holding up specially altered jackets — a navy blazer and a tan trench coat — with extra-deep pockets for secreting stolen goods and detailing his years of lies and evidence that showed he likely pilfered items well before he met Savedoff in the spring of 2010.

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