ALBANY, N.Y. – Documents dating from the Civil War and others to and from Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt are among hundreds of stolen documents sold online that eBay is agreeing to buy back and return to New York's archives, a state official said Saturday.
The online auction giant has no liability in the sale of the stolen artifacts, but agreed voluntarily to offer buyers the amount that they paid, according to the official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because not all details of the investigation have been announced.
"We believe that when people realize they bought stolen artifacts they will step forward and do the right thing," the state official said. The official said the buyers appear not to have known the documents were stolen and so wouldn't face criminal charges. Cuomo and eBay will contact the buyers, the state official said.
In January, state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo's investigation found that about 200 documents had been stolen from the archives and sold in the past two years. Checking through the buyer and seller comments in those eBay sales revealed that 200 other documents had been sold since 2001, according to the official.
The total cost of buying back the documents for which eBay has sales records is estimated at $68,000. The offer by eBay means the state won't have to spend money to buy the records. If there is a conviction, a court could order restitution.
Usher Lieberman, an eBay spokesman, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
In January, Cuomo charged Daniel Lorello, 54, an archives and records management specialist in the state Department of Education, with stealing items from the archives.
Lorello, of Rensselaer near Albany, pleaded not guilty to charges of grand larceny, criminal possession of stolen property and scheme to defraud and was released awaiting trial. He faces up to 25 years in prison.
Among the items stolen were Davy Crockett Almanacs — popular 19th century pamphlets about the frontier hero's exploits — that sold for more than $5,000; artifacts associated with the Revolutionary, Civil and Mexican wars, black Americana and items related to both Roosevelts and to Jewish Americans.
The state was alerted to the theft and sales by a history buff, Virginia attorney Joseph Romito, who noticed the sale on eBay of a four-page letter by former Vice President John Calhoun that he knew belonged to the New York State Library and Archives. That letter was sold for $1,800.