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New plea expected in document thefts case

ANNAPOLIS — A presidential historian has indicated he will plead guilty in a case in which he is accused of stealing documents signed by President Abraham Lincoln, Napoleon Bonaparte and other well-known leaders from around the world.

Barry Landau, a New York City author and collector, is accused of taking documents from the Maryland Historical Society and conspiring to steal documents from that institution and others in the Northeast with his assistant, Jason Savedoff, who pleaded guilty in October.

Landau previously pleaded not guilty, but he has a rearraignment hearing scheduled Tuesday, just days before his trial. The hearing indicates he will change his plea. Prosecutors and his attorney refused to comment.

Savedoff pleaded guilty to theft of major artwork and conspiracy to commit theft of major artwork, the same charges Landau faces.

Savedoff admitted he worked with Landau to steal items from historical societies in Maryland, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, and the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, part of the National Archives.

The pair compiled lists of historical and famous figures, often noting the market value of documents signed by those figures, and Savedoff identified collections with valuable documents that they could target, according to the Savedoff’s plea. They would distract librarians, sometimes with sweets, while they stashed documents inside clothes altered to add large hidden pockets.

Workers at the Maryland Historical Society became suspicious of the pair in July. The pair had about 80 documents when they were arrested, according to Savedoff’s plea. About 60 belonged to the Maryland society, including papers signed by Lincoln worth $300,000 and presidential inaugural ball invitations and programs worth $500,000.

Searches of Landau’s apartment turned up thousands of documents, including stolen documents signed by George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John Adams, as well as Marie Antoinette and German philosopher Karl Marx.

After Savedoff’s plea, Landau attorney Steve Silverman said his client didn’t know Savedoff had stolen documents in his Manhattan apartment and was hurt that the plea pointed a finger at him. Silverman said Savedoff only came into Landau’s life about two years ago.

Prosecutors said Landau, 63, has schemed for years, if not decades, to steal valuable documents.