Ex-government worker sentenced for stealing recordings

A recording of baseball great Babe Ruth on a 1937 hunting trip was stolen from the National Archives and sold on eBay.

Story highlights

  • Former employee receives 18-month sentence
  • Leslie Waffen sold a 1937 voice recording of Babe Ruth for $34.74 on eBay
  • Waffen worked at National Archives and Records Administration for more than 40 years
A former employee of the National Archives was sentenced Thursday to 18 months in prison for stealing rare recordings from the government to sell on the Internet.
Leslie Waffen, 67, of Rockville, Maryland, pleaded guilty in October to an eight-year scheme to embezzle historic recordings donated to the government in order to peddle them on eBay.
Among the items Waffen took was an original master copy of an interview with baseball great Babe Ruth conducted while he was quail hunting in New Jersey on December 10, 1937. Waffen sold it on eBay in September 2010 for a paltry $34.74.
Law enforcement agents later recovered the audio recording, which was still in a paper sleeve marked with the number 2172, its National Archives and Records Administration number.
Waffen stole numerous other items, including Herbert Morrison's eyewitness report of the 1937 Hindenburg disaster, a September 1924 transcontinental defense test phone call and the first network television broadcast of the World Series in 1948.
Investigators seized sound recordings during a search of Waffen's home in 2010. The government said 4,806 of those items were taken from the National Archives.
"These items were entrusted to the National Archives to be used by all citizens, not to be auctioned for personal profit to the highest bidder," said Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. Attorney in Maryland.
The federal judge in Waffen's case said losses from the scheme are calculated at $83,238. Another hearing will be held on the matter of restitution.
Waffen worked at the National Archives from 1969 until June 2010.
The government said that in the 1970s Waffen handled donations of more than 3,000 sound recordings made by a former radio engineer for CBS, NBC and the Mutual Radio networks.
That former radio engineer, J. David Goldin, told the Washington Post he saw the listing for the Babe Ruth hunting recording when he was searching the Internet in September 2010.
Goldin said he almost bought the item, but realized it was a recording he had donated to the archives years before.
"It was Ruth, and he certainly should have gotten a lot more than 34 bucks for it -- even if Ruth is blowing his nose, people will buy it," Goldin told the newspaper.
Goldin, a radio historian and collector, assisted law enforcement in its investigation of the stolen recordings.