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Presidential historian pleads guilty to stealing documents

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
updated 11:40 PM EST, Tue February 7, 2012
Barry Landau, 63, pleaded guilty to stealing historical documents.
Barry Landau, 63, pleaded guilty to stealing historical documents.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Barry Landau, 63, admits to conspiracy and theft of historical documents
  • Landau's assistant also pleads guilty, says they went to museums to steal documents
  • More than 10,000 documents were found in Landau's New York home

Washington (CNN) -- A self-styled presidential historian who claimed to have moved among presidential circles pleaded guilty Tuesday to stealing historical documents worth well over a million dollars, officials said.

Barry Landau, 63, of New York admitted guilt to charges of conspiracy and theft of historical documents from museums in Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Connecticut.

Landau entered the plea in federal court in Baltimore. Authorities said about 60 documents had been removed from collections of the Maryland Historical Society. After Landau was arrested in July, a search of his New York home turned up more than 10,000 documents. To date more than 4,000 have been traced to items taken from libraries and repositories. The documents include signatures of George Washington, John Adams, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. Other documents were signed by Marie Antoinette, Napoleon Bonaparte, Karl Marx and Sir Isaac Newton.

Laundau and a young researcher, Jason Savedoff, 24, admitted visiting numerous museums with the intent to steal valuable documents during 2010 and 2011. A suspicious curator saw Savedoff stash a document into his portfolio in the Maryland Historical Society in Baltimore in July, and the pair were arrested.

Savedoff has pleaded guilty to the same charges as Landau. Neither has been sentenced but officials say they could receive prison terms of five years each.

Authorities say Landau may have dined at the White House and perhaps met past presidents, but they believe many of his stories may not be true. Experts who have checked records found Landau, at best, had exaggerated his supposed relationship with past presidents. He had appeared on several news outlets, including CNN, as a self-proclaimed presidential historian. A Washington Post account in July quoted sources who questioned Landau's various claims of relationships with the high and mighty in government circles over some 20 years.

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