Over the last few months, William J. Scott of Longmeadow, Massachusetts, an 18 year old freshman at Drew University in New Jersey, was stealing valuable letters while working part time at the University's United Methodist Archives Center. He sold thousands of dollars of letters and F.B.I. agents found others in his dresser drawer after executing a search warrant of his dorm room. Scott was handcuffed when led into the U.S. District Court in Newark, New Jersey for a bail hearing. He faces a $250,000 fine and up to ten years in prison if convicted.
Authorities said Scott, a Drew freshman, worked as a paid student assistant at the Archives Center since approximately October 2009. The Archives Center is home to the official archival repository for The United Methodist Church. Its collection includes records from the various denominational agencies within the United Methodist tradition, and personal papers of several bishops, denominational leaders, and missionaries from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries.
Many of the documents housed at the Archives Center are maintained in a secure storage room that is locked and only accessible to those who, like Scott, are given keys by the Archives Center.
Included among the papers stored in the secure storage room at the Archives Center are approximately 145 letters of John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism. The letters were written in the 18th and 19th centuries and are valued on the open market at between approximately $5,000 and $12,000 per letter. Also included among the documents at the Archives Center are various letters written by past presidents of the United States, including Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Dwight D. Eisenhower, to various Methodist Bishops and other important Methodist figures.
“It is a sad day when a student at one of our nation’s learning institutions pilfers great cultural and historical resources, rather than respects and learns from them.” U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman said.
Items stolen include twenty-one pieces from John Wesley, and several from U.S. Presidents including Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, FDR, Eisenhower and Nixon.
Scott sold many of the letters to leading dealers throughout the United States and as far away as England, it was reported. The F.B.I. is in the process of attempting to retrieve the stolen items. According to the agent in charge the F.B.I. will try and help the dealers involved get refunds.
Anyone who has purchased items from William Scott during the last few months, or sent checks to his home address in Longmeadow, Massachusetts, should contact Signature Arts, Inc. via eMail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will put you in touch with the F.B.I. Special Agent in New Jersey who is handling this case.