Philly house cleaner arrested in theft of $3M Ben Franklin bust

A rare bust of Benjamin Franklin worth $3 million has been recovered nearly a month after it was allegedly stolen by a housekeeper from a suburban Philadelphia home.

Owner George D'Angelo said the 1778 porcelain bust by Jean-Antoine Houdon was recovered Friday when authorities arrested a former house cleaner identified in legal filings as 46-year-old Andrea Lawton.

“I was shocked down to my toes,” D’Angelo told “And I was saddened. It’s a great treasure and it belongs to all of us. It’s Benjamin Franklin, one of our founding fathers.”


D'Angelo, 85, of Bryn Mawr, Pa., said the “piece of history” was stolen from his home on Aug. 24. It suffered a cracked breastplate during the heist and will be analyzed by a restoration expert when returned by authorities.

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“I want some experts to look at it,” D’Angelo said. “I don’t want any further movement [of] it.”

The bust, which weighs about 25 pounds and stands four feet tall, is just one of four pieces like it in existence, said D’Angelo, who inherited the bust and added that he intends to cooperate with authorities.

Lawton, of Philadelphia and Mobile, Ala., was arrested Friday in Maryland after exiting a bus in Elkton. She had worked as a housekeeper for D’Angelo for roughly a month prior to the alleged heist, he said. She remains in federal custody and is expected to be arraigned Wednesday.

A framed picture of Victor Herbert, a conductor’s baton and a list of the composer’s music was also stolen from D’Angelo’s home and has not yet been located, he said. Those items are collectively valued at $80,000, court documents show.

“I hope that she will tell us where it is,” he said. “When I went into the drawing room and the police were there on Friday, and I saw that empty spot [where the picture once was] … it was an awful shock.”

D’Angelo said he now intends to conduct a “very careful review” of all contractors and service workers at his home.

“We don’t want anything like this happening again,” he said.

Lawton, also known as Andrea Gresham, has been charged with theft, fraud, and interstate transportation of stolen property, according court documents filed in Philadelphia. Attempts to reach her attorney were unsuccessful.

Calls seeking comment from prosecutors and FBI officials in Philadelphia were not immediately returned Tuesday.