Book 'em: Four Sentenced to 7+ Years in Library Theft
By Michael Stillman
The case has not garnered the notoriety of the Forbes Smiley case, where the New England map seller allegedly sliced valuable old maps from Yale and other libraries' rare book collections. However, four young men from Kentucky will be spending the next six years behind bars for their recent rare book theft. The bizarre theft took place on December 17, 2004, when one of the men entered the Special Collections Library at Transylvania University in Lexington. At the time, they had already sent emails to Christie's in New York expressing their interest in an appraisal and sale of a group of rare books.
Reportedly, the four had planned an earlier attempt at the library dressed in strange disguises, reminiscent of some movie plot, but the attempt had fallen through. Not so with the second try. After one defendant made his way into the library and provided entrance to a comrade, they tied up librarian B.J. Gooch. Gooch was blindfolded and some sort of stunning device was used to subdue her. They proceeded to gather the books they wanted, but trouble with an elevator alerted a second librarian. The men fled, dropping several of the books along the way, before effecting their escape. They then drove to New York, showing up at Christie's two days later, attempting to sell their cache. Christie's became suspicious and the men returned with their books, but no money, to Kentucky.
Ultimately, the email address used to contact Christie's and the library to set up appointments enabled the police to locate and arrest the thieves a few weeks later. The four pleaded guilty in April, and were sentenced on December 7, 2005. All four, Warren Lipka, Erik Borsuk, Charles Allen, and Spencer Reinhard, were sentenced to 7 years and 3 months each, and will have to spend a minimum of just over 6 years before any possibility of release. At least one of the defendants is appealing a part of the sentence which resulted in 17 of the 87 months assessed. The four were reportedly high school friends and all were 20 years of age at the time of the crime.
The major items taken in the theft included some Audubon sketches, a first edition of Darwin's Origin of the Species, and two manuscripts. Both the prosecution and defense agreed these items were worth an estimated $735,000. However, two issues were disputed before the judge for sentencing purposes. One was whether a stun gun or stun pen used to subdue the librarian was a "dangerous weapon." The defense argued that while inflicting a shock, it was not dangerous. The judge did not buy that argument, but the 17 months tacked on for the dangerous weapon is the item one of the defendants is appealing. The second issue was whether books grabbed by the defendants, but dropped while still in the library as they fled, should be counted among the stolen goods. On this one, the judge sided with the defendants, that those items were not stolen.