An Allegheny County judge on Friday ordered home confinement and significant periods of probation for two men accused of stealing more than $8.1 million worth of rare books and artifacts from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
Common Pleas Judge Alexander P. Bicket said he would have sentenced former librarian Gregory Priore and John Schulman, owner of Caliban Book Shop in Oakland, to jail had it not been for the coronavirus pandemic.
Police charged the pair with pilfering books and other written material from the library over 25 years, describing it as the largest antique book art theft in the world, the judge said.
He told the pair they betrayed their professions, the library, their families and the citizens of Allegheny County, among others.
“You will have to live that for the rest of your lives,” Bicket said. “Without a doubt, were it not for the pandemic the sentence for both of these defendants would be significantly more impactful.”
Schulman, 56, of Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill neighborhood, previously pleaded guilty to theft, receiving stolen property and forgery. Bicket ordered him to serve concurrent sentences amounting to four years of home confinement with electronic monitoring and 12 years of probation. He must pay $55,731 in restitution and cannot profit from any potential publication or film about the thefts, according to the judge.
Priore, 63, of Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood, previously pleaded guilty to theft and receiving stolen property. The judge ordered him to serve concurrent terms amounting to three years of home confinement with electronic monitoring and 12 years of probation.
Robert DelGreco and Patrick Livingston, attorneys representing the two men, argued for probation during a seven-hour sentencing hearing that started Thursday and continued Friday, describing their clients as remorseful first-time nonviolent offenders.
“I’m heartened that my client is not incarcerated,” said DelGreco, who represented Schulman. “I have little doubt that if those factors didn’t exist that Judge Bicket would have been good on his word for incarceration.”
Livingston declined comment on behalf of Priore.
Priore, who worked more than 30 years for the library, was archivist and manager of the William R. Oliver Special Collections Room. Police charged him with stealing some of the library’s rarest material — including a history book autographed by President Thomas Jefferson and a Bible dating to the 1600s — and selling it to Schulman, who in turn sold it to collectors.
The library discovered the missing items during a 2017 appraisal and fired Priore. The appraisal determined that about 320 items and 16 maps and images from books, atlases and folios were damaged.
Patrick Dowd, chairman of the library’s board of trustees, described the losses as irrevocable.
“They (the books) were to be maintained,” he said. “They were to be studied. They were to be cherished.”
Instead, he added, they were “pillaged for personal gain.”
Bicket chided Schulman for an email he wrote to four friends on the day he pleaded guilty. He proclaimed his innocence in the message and said he pleaded guilty only to avoid the expense, time and risk of going to trial.
“This is how the justice system works: it’s either negotiating a plea deal or letting it drag on another year, with no promises except that it will cost me at least $200K more in legal fees. I’m barely able to pay for an oil change these days, so I had no choice,” Schulman wrote.
Schulman renounced the email and said he sent it in a desperate attempt to garner the support of the few supporters he had left since being charged in 2018.
Bicket said he didn’t believe the explanation, calling it “hollow” and “unpersuasive.” The judge said he believed Schulman was planning a public relations campaign after sentencing that would allow him to regain his reputation and continue as a renowned rare book appraiser, who appeared on the likes of the PBS series “Antique Roadshow.”
“I think it’s an effort of damage control,” Bicket said.
Both Schulman and Priore on Thursday apologized to the City of Pittsburgh, its residents and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.
“I’m ashamed of what I did to that room. I’m appalled by my actions,” Priore said, adding that he loved the library. “I am deeply sorry for what I’ve done.”
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