Map Dealer Admits Stealing From Libraries

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 23, 2006

BOSTON, June 22 -- A leading dealer of rare maps admitted in court Thursday that he had stolen 97 maps worth at least $3 million from libraries in the United States and Britain, detailing a hidden career as a thief that unraveled when he dropped an X-Acto blade on the floor of a library reading room, federal prosecutors said.

E. Forbes Smiley III, 50, pleaded guilty to the charge of theft of major artwork Thursday afternoon in a federal court in New Haven, Conn., prosecutors said. They said he had cooperated with the FBI to provide a list of his thefts, which rattled both elite rare-book libraries and the rarefied community of map collectors after Smiley was arrested last year.

Smiley's crimes, which started in 1998, mainly targeted maps related to the exploration and colonization of the Americas, authorities said. Those that Smiley admitted stealing included a 1524 map of the New World made by Spanish conquistador Hernando Cort?s, a 1680 map of Virginia and 1582's "Divers Voyages Touching the Discoverie of America." The libraries victimized included those at Yale and Harvard universities, the New York Public Library, and the British Library in London.

Most of the maps that Smiley stole were sold to private collectors or other dealers. Eighty-six have been located since his arrest and will be returned to their owners, six have been located but not returned, and five have been lost, authorities said.

Smiley faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine that could exceed $1.6 million. He will be sentenced in September. His attorney, Richard A. Reeve, told the Associated Press that Smiley intends to make some kind of restitution.

"It is in effect a decision by Mr. Smiley, having done very bad acts against people and institutions who he liked and has respected and worked with for a number of years, to make them whole for the damage he has done," Reeve said, according to the AP.

Before his arrest, Smiley had been a map dealer for 25 years, with his current home and office on Massachusetts's Martha's Vineyard.

Those who knew Smiley have described him to reporters as a professorial New England Yankee type, at home in a world where luxury-car amounts of money are spent to indulge obscure historical obsessions.

But at least one competitor, map dealer W. Graham Arader III, said he saw something amiss with Smiley's business model.

"It's your gut," said Arader, who said he warned others that Smiley might be stealing. "The guy was buying stuff and selling it to my customers for 70 percent of the wholesale auction price, and he was doing it for 20 years."

Smiley was unmasked as a thief one morning last June at Yale's Beinecke Library, when an employee found the X-Acto blade. Nearby, staff spotted Smiley looking at books containing old maps, according to a police account.

Shortly afterward, a Yale detective confronted Smiley, who admitted that the blade was his. Then a police lieutenant noticed a bulge in the pocket of Smiley's blazer.

It was a 390-year-old map with a picture of early colonist John Smith on it, worth about $50,000. It was missing from a book in the library.

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