April 28, 2015
Stolen books from NYPL under grand jury investigation
by Nick Davies
A Long Island woman is facing a lot more than overdue fines from the New York Public Library over several rare books that were taken from the collection. Nicole Hong reports for the Wall Street Journal that the books in question are now the subject of a grand jury investigation into theft from the library.
Margaret Tanchuck, a resident of Nassau County, NY, came across a collection of valuable books last year when she was cleaning out her late father’s jewelry store, among them a few Bibles and a manuscript written by Benjamin Franklin dating back to the 18th century. She brought them to William Doyle Galleries, Inc. to have them appraised, which led to her ultimately being investigated for attempting to sell stolen books. It was the appraiser who noticed call numbers on the spines of the books and called the library to find out more, with Tanchuck’s permission. In court documents, the NYPL states that the books were “somehow taken…between 1988 and 1991.”
Ken Weine, vice president of communications and marketing for the library, says in a press statement, “This material was evidently stolen from the library, and now someone is trying to profit from it. We will aggressively work to ensure that this material is returned to the public domain where it belongs.” Tanchuck protests that she hadn’t previously known anything about the books’ provenance—only that they’ve been in her family for nearly thirty years—and that the only people who would know where they came from would have been her parents, who have passed away.
Earlier this month, Tanchuck filed a civil action to ask a judge to determine who should own the books, arguing that the library hadn’t taken any action or alerted anyone until she had them appraised. Library spokespeople counter that “it’s not unusual for institutions to pursue stolen items decades after they go missing,” especially since they didn’t know where these books had gone.
Tanchuck is now being investigated by a grand jury for having the rare documents appraised for sale. The statute she’s potentially charged with breaking prohibits the disposal of “an object of cultural heritage from a museum…knowing that it has been stolen or obtained by fraud.” Her attorney, Daniel Arshack, contends that “She’s never known how they left the library. It’s horrifying that she’s being viewed as a potential criminal.”
The books are currently in government custody, having been seized in a grand jury subpoena last week.
Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.