A 1787 document signed by Thomas Jefferson. “Four Works Bound Together,” John Calvin, 1557-1572. And pages and pages sliced from rare books from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh are among more than 300 items stolen over the last 20 years.
The former archivist of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s rare book collection told investigators he conspired with the owner of an Oakland bookseller since the 1990s to steal and resell items taken from there.
Gregory Priore, who was terminated from the library on June 28, 2017, and John Schulman, who co-owns Caliban Book Shop, are under investigation for theft, receiving stolen property and criminal mischief, according to hundreds of pages of documents unsealed Thursday in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court.
The documents, which include applications for search warrants, inventories from completed searches and affidavits laying out probable cause in the investigation, have been sealed since last summer.
They reveal that a total of nearly 320 items were removed from the Oliver Room at the library’s main branch in Oakland, valued at more than $8 million.
Of those items, dozens were recovered in the Caliban Book Shop Warehouse in Wilkinsburg during searches there in August, court records show. Among them, “Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy,” Isaac Newton, 1803, and “Philosophae Naturalis Principia Mathematica,” Isaac Newton, 1833. Also recovered were maps and plates and loose pages believed to have been cut from books in the collection.
The affidavit noted the recovery at the warehouse of two Mercator-Hondius maps in a plastic sleeve, which also contained an eBay receipt showing a sale of the items for $149.99 from Nov. 2, 2008. The payment was sent to an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org, which investigators said belonged to Caliban.
A search Thursday evening showed that Caliban Book Shop was offering a George Edwards hand-colored engraving, “The Blue Jay and the Summer Red Bird Print,” online for $120.
A print of that name, according to a search warrant inventory return, was seized by investigators in August.
Attorney Kayleigh Shebs, who represents Mr. Priore, said she had no comment.
Robert G. Del Greco Jr., who represents Mr. Schulman, said his client is a highly regarded antiquarian bookseller.
“We are aware that a search warrant was executed but have not had the opportunity to review the reasons for the search warrant,” he said. “We will address matters in due course.”
When asked about the dozens of items reported stolen by the library that investigators said they found in the Caliban warehouse, Mr. Del Greco said, “Having not been able to review the paperwork, I’m not in a position to comment on that.”
The investigation into the thefts at the library began in April 2017 after appraisers from Pall Mall Art Advisors found in an audit that 314 items were missing from the library’s collection and 16 more were “ ‘diminished’ or vandalized by removal of a portion of the original item.”
They estimated the loss to the library at $8.1 million.
The Oliver Room remains closed.
Investigators with the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office were called in in June 2017 and, according to the documents unsealed Thursday, began executing search warrants in August.
Among the places searched were the homes of both Mr. Priore and Mr. Schulman, as well as the Caliban Book Shop and warehouse.
According to an affidavit of probable cause attached to several warrants, Mr. Priore was appointed sole archivist and manager of the rare book room in 1992. His job duties included preserving the history of the library, identifying items that should go to the Oliver Room and maintaining its contents.
Mr. Schulman, the affidavit said, opened Caliban Book Shop, with co-owner Emily Hetzel, in 1991.
When he first was interviewed by library administrators, the affidavit said, Mr. Priore told them that, although he never left a customer in the Oliver Room unattended, he occasionally would trust interns or cataloguers to be left with patrons.
He also said that for 11 to 12 years, up to 30 volunteers and interns may have been in the room alone, and maintenance workers had access as well. He also admitted, the affidavit said, to being “lazy in maintaining logs of visitors and the items to which they requested access.”
It wasn’t until the search of his home on Aug. 24, according to an affidavit, that Mr. Priore “admitted having conspired with Schulman since the late 1990s in the theft and selling of rare books, maps and/ or plates from the Oliver Room.”
In an email he sent to an unidentified person, the affidavit said, Mr. Priore wrote, “ ‘John Schulman at Caliban is the only game in town. But that’s not a bad thing. I have known John for many years.’”
During the course of the investigation, according to the affidavit, appraisers with Pall Mall Art Advisors located both historic and current instances in which several of the library’s missing items were subsequently sold or advertised for sale by or through Caliban Book Shop.
Among those items was a 1787 first edition “De la France et des Etats-Unis,” signed by Thomas Jefferson, which was discovered as being listed for sale online through Bauman Rare Books, which has offices in New York and New Jersey.
Joseph L. Luciana III, an attorney representing Caliban, sent correspondence to attorneys for the library on July 28, 2017, asserting that the book had been “officially withdrawn from Carnegie Library as part of a ‘general deaccession’ during the years 1999-2000.”
Library administration said no items from the Oliver Room had ever been part of a deaccession.
Mr. Luciana also asserted that Caliban lawfully purchased the book directly from the library and later sold it to a third party. Attached to the message was a copy of a memo on Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh letterhead, dated March 5, 2014, and purportedly written by Mr. Priore, in which he said that the book was withdrawn from the library “as part of a ‘general deaccession’ during the years 1999-2000.”
The affidavit alleges that the library header and footer were not aligned with the typed body of the memo.
“This is a strong indication that the two portions were not from the same original document at the time the attached copy or scan was created,” the affidavit said. “Instead, the appearance of this memo is consistent with a fabricated ‘cut and paste’ document, wherein the creator attempts to create the appearance of an authentic original document by copying two separate documents into one.”
The affidavit said that, since a number of the stolen items have been advertised for sale both locally and abroad, it appears the motive for the crime is a financial one.
According to the court filings, during its own investigation, library administrators did a review of Mr. Priore’s email account through Carnegie Library and found several messages between 2015 and 2016 in which he communicated with billing offices at Ellis School and Duquesne University.
“In several of the Ellis School emails, Priore requested to have pending payment due dates extended. In one such email thread, dated Oct. 28, 2015, Priore stated, ‘I am trying to juggle tuition payments for four kids,’” the affidavit said.
In other messages in late 2015 and early 2016, he asked Duquesne to lift holds on his children’s accounts so they could register for classes.
In another set of messages to a property management company in February 2016, the affidavit said, he asked that a check be held because his wife had been unable to work because she had a heart attack the previous December.
“Priore’s wife is a full-time employee of [Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh] with no record of any leave taken during that time period,” investigators wrote.
Among records seized during the searches were bank and financial records from Caliban and Mr. Priore.