Library-to-eBay Thief Caught
By Michael Stillman
One of the more egregious cases of library theft/eBay selling came to a close in late June when James Brubaker of Great Falls, Montana, pled guilty to charges of possession and interstate transportation of stolen property. The 74-year-old Brubaker is scheduled to be sentenced on September 15 and could receive as many as ten years in prison as well as a $250,000 fine. Still unclear is the fate of Brubaker's wife Caroline who was charged with assisting her husband in selling the stolen items in May.
Brubaker's scheme began to unravel in early 2006 when Julie Fitzgerald, a librarian working in the government documents area of the Western Washington University Library, noticed a suspicious man looking over some books. After he left, Ms. Fitzgerald did some searching through the shelves and found many books had been retuned out of order. More ominously, she discovered many of the books were missing sections or pages. She reported what she found to librarian Robert Lopresti, who, in a fortuitous coincidence, also happens to be a mystery writer. They set about tracking down the thief.
Now where would you look for stolen items that are of reasonable, but not enormous value? You don't have to be a great sleuth to figure eBay is the place. They began searching for items missing from the library's collection, and found such items being offered by eBay seller "montanasilver." According to documents filed by the prosecution in court, montanasilver claimed the books were part of a "personal collection that had been put together for over 50 years." True enough, it's just that he wasn't the one who put the collection together.
The librarian-sleuths next decided to bid on items they believed to have been stolen from Western Washington. Lopresti had friends from the east coast place the orders so the Montana based eBay seller would not become suspicious. What they received from montanaseller matched the missing items from the library. Meanwhile, a search of university police records disclosed that Brubaker, alias "montanasilver," had received a parking ticket at a lot near the library on the date in question. However, in an article written on his Criminal Brief website, Lopresti reported that the small value of the items made it hard to seriously interest law enforcement. Still, the librarians suspected that it was likely the thief had visited other libraries as well. Eventually, they discovered that several governmental agencies had investigated Brubaker in the past, but never had enough evidence to charge him with anything. Now they had sufficient grounds to issue a search warrant of Brubaker's home.
What the police found when they searched Brubaker's house went far beyond the walls of the Western Washington Library. This is why this is such a large case. The charges state that of the approximately 1,000 books the police found in Brubaker's house, 832 were believed to have been stolen. Of these, 750 had library markings on them. There are believed to have been as many as 109 separate victim libraries, 51 of them so far confirmed. Victimized libraries have been identified in Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Twelve libraries in Montana have been identified, along with another three from Alberta, Canada.