A former archivist and a bookstore owner who were accused of stealing about 300 rare books and other artifacts from Pittsburgh’s central library — items that would cost more than $8 million to replace — were each sentenced Friday to several years of house arrest, prosecutors said.
The former archivist, Gregory Priore, who oversaw a special collection of rare books at the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, walked out of the building with books — sometimes in plain sight — and sold them to the local bookstore owner, John Schulman, in a scheme that lasted nearly 20 years, the authorities said.
Patrick Dowd, board chair of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, said the thefts “will forever raise doubts about the security of all future charitable donations, particularly to the Carnegie Library.”
The stolen items included a 1787 first-edition book signed by Thomas Jefferson, a rare copy of “The Journal of Major George Washington” and a version of Isaac Newton’s “Principia,” among the most influential books in science, said to be worth $900,000, the authorities said.
Judge Alexander P. Bicket of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas sentenced Mr. Schulman, 56, to four years of house arrest and 12 years of probation, the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office said. The judge also ordered Mr. Schulman to pay $55,000 in restitution.
Mr. Priore, 63, was sentenced to three years of house arrest and 12 years of probation.
Judge Bicket indicated that if it were not for concerns about incarcerating nonviolent offenders during the coronavirus pandemic, the sentences would have been “significantly more impactful,” according to Mike Manko, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office.
Ember K. Holmes, Mr. Schulman’s lawyer, said the judge was clear that he would have incarcerated her client had it not been for the coronavirus.
“In consideration that my client is a first-time offender, that this was a nonviolent crime, and that he is 56 years old, along with the recognition that the jails are a fertile ground for viral transmission, my client received a sentence of house arrest and probation,” she wrote in an email. “We are pleased that he is not incarcerated.”
Mr. Priore’s lawyer, Patrick Livingston, did not immediately respond to messages on Friday night.
Mr. Priore and Mr. Schulman formed a partnership in the late 1990s, according to an affidavit filed by the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office.
Mr. Priore was the sole archivist and manager of the William R. Oliver Special Collections Room, known as the Oliver Room, at the Carnegie Library. In that role, he oversaw about 30,000 unique and valuable items, including rare books, maps and plates.
Over the years, Mr. Priore told the authorities, he removed items from the library — sometimes he used an X-Acto knife to remove a part of a book, and other times he simply carried out a whole book or map — and dropped them off at Mr. Schulman’s store, Caliban Book Shop, on his way home from work.
Mr. Schulman would then sell the items, claiming they had been lawfully removed from the library’s collection or purchased from the library, prosecutors said.
To make some books appear as if they been legitimately acquired, Mr. Schulman stamped them as having been “withdrawn” from the Carnegie Library’s collection, prosecutors said.
Mr. Priore said he stopped selling in late 2016 because he learned that the library was going to conduct an appraisal of the collection the next year.
Appraisers discovered missing items and books that had been “cannibalized,” with entire portions removed, according to the affidavit.
In July 2018, Mr. Priore and Mr. Schulman were arrested on numerous charges, including theft and criminal conspiracy, sending a shudder across the rare books industry.
In January, Mr. Priore pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property and theft by unlawful taking, in exchange for prosecutors’ dropping other charges against him, according to the district attorney’s office. Mr. Schulman pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property, forgery and theft by deception under a similar agreement with prosecutors.
“The damage wrought by John Schulman and Greg Priore is unfathomable,” Mr. Dowd wrote in a letter to the court. “The true depths of their betrayal of trust, their vandalism, destruction of public property and theft from our community is unquantifiable.”
Mr. Priore told the authorities that he had stolen the items for money to stay “afloat” and help pay tuition for his four children. “I should have never done this,” he said. “I loved that room, my whole working life, and greed came over me.”
“I did it,” he said, “but Schulman spurred me on.”