eBay causes trouble for NY archivist

January 29, 2008 7:52:39 AM PST
The New York State Library doesn't usually sell its treasured historical documents on eBay. So when one history buff discovered a listing on the auction site for a letter written by the nation's vice president in 1823, he quickly figured out something was very wrong. With a little research, Virginia attorney Joseph Romito discovered that the four-page letter written by former Vice President John Calhoun belonged to the state library, and he alerted authorities.

Investigators placed the winning $1,800 bid on the letter - eventually learning the seller was a longtime state archivist who stole hundreds of historic artifacts, selling them to pay for home renovations and his daughter's credit card debt, prosecutors charged Monday.

Daniel Lorello, 54, an archives and records management specialist in the New York Department of Education, is accused of stealing items including Davy Crockett Almanacs, Currier and Ives lithographs, and the 1865 railroad timetable for Abraham Lincoln's funeral train. Authorities believe he made tens of thousands of dollars.

"This crime is especially repugnant, because it's dealing with historic documents," state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said at a news conference Monday. "It's literally stealing the legacy of the state of New York page by page."

Lorello, who lives in Rensselaer, pleaded not guilty Monday to charges of grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and scheme to defraud and was released on his own recognizance. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

"These kinds of items ... represent the heritage of all Americans," Romito said. "I am gratified that I had some small part to play in it."

Lorello, who began working at the state archives in 1979, was placed on administrative leave from his $71,732-a-year job. He made no comment as he left court and messages left on his answering machine were not immediately returned.

Officials found hundreds of documents and artifacts in Lorello's home, which they searched over the weekend.

In a handwritten statement released by Cuomo's office, Lorello said he took "more than 300 or 400 items in 2007 alone."

He said he "particularly liked" artifacts associated with the Revolutionary, Civil and Mexican wars, World War I, black Americana and "anything related to the Roosevelts and Jewish items."

Authorities believe the theft goes back to 2002, although it accelerated in 2007.

"I took things on an as-needed basis to pay family bills, such as house renovations, car bills, tuition and my daughter's credit card problem," Lorello wrote. He said he took many items last year because his daughter "unexpectedly ran up a $10,000 credit card bill."

Lorello also said his pilfering increased after learning that surveillance cameras were scheduled to be installed into the library.

It's unclear how much Lorello made from his sales. In some cases he went to trade shows and exchanged the stolen items for others, authorities said. But officials said in just two sales of Davy Crockett Almanacs - popular 19th century pamphlets about the frontier hero's exploits - he received more than $5,000.

Altogether, officials at the attorney general's office believe his profits to be in the "tens of thousands."

"We're working on recovering those documents sold on eBay," Cuomo said. "We're asking the traders to please check their collections."

EBay is working with state officials to obtain the past sales records from Lorello's account.