Printed: June 14, 2021

Men plead guilty to theft of $8M in rare books

BY PAULA REED WARD PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

The two men accused of taking more than $8 million worth of rare books and parts of books from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and then selling them to collectors pleaded guilty Monday to theft.

Greg Priore, 63, of Oakland, who worked as the sole archivist and manager of the the library’s rare book room, and John Schulman, 56, of Squirrel Hill, who owns Caliban Book Shop, will be sentenced by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Alexander P. Bicket on April 17.

Advisory sentencing guidelines call for nine to 16 months incarceration in the standard range for a first-degree felony, although probation is recommended in the mitigating range.

Mr. Priore, who admitted in statements to police his role in the crime, pleaded guilty to theft and receiving stolen property — both first-degree felonies.

Mr. Schulman, who investigators said would receive the stolen items from Mr. Priore and then sell them to collectors through his store and online, pleaded guilty to receiving stolen property, theft by deception and forgery.

All the other counts against both men were withdrawn by the prosecution.

Suzanne Thinnes, a spokeswoman for the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, called the thefts “devastating.”

“The shock, the anger and the hurt we feel that individuals who were close to us, who were trusted by us, who were considered friends and colleagues to many of us at the library, would abuse the faith we had in them for personal gain will be with us for a very long time,” she said in a written statement. “We are hopeful that the sentences given to these two individuals will reflect the significant damage done not only to Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, but to the literary community near and far.”

Deputy District Attorney Brian Catanzarite told the judge the crime was ongoing from 1992 to 2017.

Mr. Priore was the manager of the Oliver Room, which housed 30,000 unique and valuable items, Mr. Catanzarite said.

During that time, Mr. Priore reached an agreement with Mr. Schulman — Mr. Priore would remove the items from the library and then provide them to Mr. Schulman, who sold them “in exchange for payment.”

According to the criminal complaint, Mr. Priore’s bank records showed he received 56 checks from Caliban Book Shop from Jan. 1, 2010, through Sept. 1, 2017, totaling $117,700, and that during a similar period of time, he made cash deposits of $17,000.

Attorneys Kayleigh Shebs and Patrick Livingston, who represented Mr. Priore, said they had no comment following the hearing.

Albert Veverka, who represented Mr. Schulman during the plea hearing, specified to the court that his client was not admitting to any role in a conspiracy.

In a written statement, Mr. Schulman’s attorneys said that he pleaded to a “substantial reduction in charges” and that he accepted “responsibility for his association with books under circumstances whereby he should have known that the books had probably been stolen.”

“Mr. Schulman has dedicated much of his life to contributing to the bookselling trade and regrets that today’s guilty pleas negatively reflected upon the antiquarian book industry, his family and clients.”

Pall Mall Art Advisors estimated the loss of value from the thefts at $8,066,300 — among the largest in the world, according to the criminal complaint.

In statements to investigators, Mr. Priore admitted taking items from the Oliver Room by carrying individual plates — or illustrated pages — and maps out in manila folders. He would carry books or sometimes larger items by rolling them up and walking out.

“Priore stated, ‘I should have never done this. I loved that room, my whole working life, and greed came over me. I did it, but Schulman spurred me on,’” the complaint read. “Priore alleged that Schulman ‘goaded’ him on and that Schulman made significantly more money than he did in the sale of the items from the Oliver Room.”

Mr. Priore told detectives he took a lot of maps and pictures — as many as 200, the complaint continued.

It wasn’t until 2017, during an audit by Pall Mall, that the thefts were discovered. They reported some 300 items missing and another 16 that were vandalized. Of those, 42 of them were recovered from the Caliban Book Shop Warehouse in Wilkinsburg over a nine-day search.

Among the items stolen and recovered were Isaac Newton’s “Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica,” valued at $900,000, as well as a 1615 Breeches Bible.