Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2016 Issue

Another Book Thief Off to Prison

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The Peoria Barnes & Noble (from Barnes & Noble website).

Rumors of their death notwithstanding, we constantly are reminded that printed books are still a valuable commodity in the worst possible way. People steal them. An Illinois man was recently sentenced to 21 months in prison on charges relating to the theft of books. It could have been ten times as long, as the charges to which he pled guilty carry a sentence as long as 20 years. That stiff a sentence would have been unusual, but since the guidelines called for a sentence of 27-33 months, he made out like a bandit, so to speak.

 

James Stewart, 63, of Galesburg, Illinois, mainly took new books from Barnes & Noble stores. A favorite of his was medical textbooks, because, as any student knows, there's nothing among new books that can compete for price with a Shakespeare First Folio like a textbook. Medical textbooks must be among the worst offenders. Many were taken from the Barnes & Noble in nearby Peoria, though Mr. Stewart must have hit the road at times as stores in Phoenix and Denver were also listed. He evidently made enough on his enterprise, which was described as his sole source of income, to be able to travel.

 

Many of the books he took were electronically tagged, but Mr. Stewart figured out how to remove those tags. He would often go back several times in a single day to take more. Many trips is not surprising as I don't know how you sneak out with even one medical textbook without it bulging out from somewhere.

 

It is unknown exactly how many books Mr. Stewart stole, but it was many hundreds, if not thousands. The charges covered the years 2002-2013. Part of the reason his sentence was below the guidelines was that this was a first time offense, though there is something ironic in that. The number of thefts he committed must have been enormous, but for 12 years he got away with it. Had he committed only a fraction as many thefts, but been caught more often, his sentence likely would have been longer. As it was, he pled guilty only to wire fraud, not theft. Many of the books were sold on eBay, though in the beginning he sold the books at flea markets.

 

The prosecution also set the amount of restitution at $229,269. However, there's a kicker in that. It only covers the years 2011-2013. The thefts began in 2002.

 

Mr. Stewart will begin serving his sentence in May. There will not be a wonderful life ahead for a long time for this James Stewart.

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