Printed: November 25, 2020

Library theft defendant claims innocence

Schulman pleaded guilty in January

BY PAULA REED WARD AND MARYLYNNE PITZ PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE

The day before Caliban Book Shop owner John Schulman stood before a Common Pleas judge and pleaded guilty to three counts involving the theft and destruction of rare and collectible books from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, he sent an email to supporters declaring his innocence.

In the lengthy message sent on Jan. 12 and obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Sunday, Mr. Schulman, 56, told the recipients he was pleading guilty to receiving stolen property, theft by deception and forgery — but that “I am innocent of all of these.”

He explained the prosecution had offered him a “huge reduction” from the 20 original counts filed against him and because of the “expense, time and risk of a trial” that his defense attorneys advised him to take the plea, calling it “in essence, a victory for our side.”

Both Mr. Schulman and Gregory Priore, the former sole archivist and manager of the the library’s rare book room at the Oakland branch, pleaded guilty and will be sentenced by Judge Alexander P. Bicket on Thursday. The advisory guidelines suggest a sentence of nine to 16 months incarceration, and Deputy District Attorney Brian Catanzarite urged the judge to impose prison time because the theft scheme — in which Mr. Priore would remove whole items or cut out maps and plates from collectible books to give to Mr. Schulman to sell — went on for 25 years and resulted in a loss of more than $8 million.

But in the email he sent to his supporters, Mr. Schulman said he expected his punishment to be either house arrest or probation.

“Jail time is highly unlikely, but since my lawyers are lawyers, they refused to rule it out 100%,” he wrote. “The day of the sentencing will be slightly dramatic, as the [assistant district attorney] is sure to jump up and down and ask for me to be publicly hanged and penalized to the fullest extent of the law.”

On Monday, one of Mr. Schulman’s defense attorneys, Robert Del Greco Jr., said in a statement that his client’s January email was “improvidently composed.”

“The objective of the email sent to select close friends and colleagues was to minimize his criminal involvement and to partially salvage his greatly tarnished reputation in the antiquarian book community,” Mr. Del Greco wrote. “To be sure, on January 13, 2020, Mr. Schulman, both in writing, and on the record, unequivocally pled guilty to three felony counts. After solemn and honest reflection, and without reservation, Mr. Schulman has, and continues to, accept responsibility for the crimes for which he has pled guilty.”

Mr. Del Greco said the email does not reflect the present tone and tenor of Mr. Schulman’s attitude toward the criminal prosecution.

“It is expected that, at the allocution phase of his sentencing, Mr. Schulman will again, under oath, and on the record, categorically accept full responsibility for his actions relating to those crimes for which he has pled guilty,” the attorney said.

Mike Manko, a spokesman with the DA’s office, said the prosecution is prepared to move forward Thursday.

“This defendant told the judge he was pleading guilty because he was guilty. Since that time, we have received no indication that this defendant wants to withdraw that plea.”

In his message, Mr. Schulman wrote that, in the days before his plea, there had been evidence discovered that was favorable to him.

He wrote that he had just learned that items that had been stolen but returned to the library had “withdrawn” stamps on them, which he said was “proof that those items were actually legitimately sold to me by the library.”

Mr. Schulman did not mention in that email that, during the initial investigation into the stolen materials, investigators searching the Caliban warehouse in Wilkinsburg on Aug. 24, 2017, found a Carnegie Library book stamp with the word “withdrawn” on it.

Michael Vinson, a rare book dealer and author in Santa Fe, N.M., who received Mr. Schulman’s original email, wondered: If the books were legitimately sold to Mr. Schulman, why did he make the checks for them out to Mr. Priore instead of to the library?

Mr. Vinson said Mr. Schulman’s email makes his plea out to be a victory.

“It’s a very defiant statement from a man that refuses to accept any responsibility,” he said.

Several times in his message, Mr. Schulman mentioned media coverage of his case but said he thought stories from the plea hearing would be minimal because “the so-called Barbeque Slaughter are having their day in court, and media will be more interested in them than in me.”

He was referring to the mass shooting in Wilkinsburg in March 2016 that killed five adults and an unborn child. Jury selection in that case began in early January.

“[B]ut whatever they publish about it, please know that I am confident I will get a chance, eventually, to correct some misinformation — how I trusted a librarian who turned out to be a crook, how the library’s mismanagement of their treasured books (the place was still so badly organized when my lawyers visited last week that they couldn’t even find several items that had been returned) led to this situation, how the appraisers utterly overinflated the numbers to suggest they were worth in the millions, and how the detectives committed several huge mistakes in how they investigated the case,” he wrote.

He said the justice system either works by negotiating a plea deal or spending exorbitant amounts of money in legal fees. “I’m barely able to pay for an oil change these days, so I had no choice,” he wrote.

Mr. Schulman asked his supporters that if there are discussions about him or his case online that they stand with him and correct any misinformation.

Once sentencing concluded, Mr. Schulman continued, he would be able to say whatever he wants “to begin the work of reclaiming my good name.”

Mr. Schulman told those who received the letter that he was “deeply remorseful” for how the entire situation has affected his loved ones and that his “foolish actions” have caused him exile from his trade.

He noted, too, that he is eager to move forward.

“I know that for me, there will never be a time when I am restored fully to the warmth and embrace of the book world, but at the same time I don’t deserve to be a pariah or to be shunned. I’m not one to wallow in self pity, and I am circumspect about this as simply part of what fate had in store for me — yes, I believe in fate — but will, at some point, demand my gun and my badge back.”

Kevin Mac Donnell, a rare book dealer in Austin, Texas, said Mr. Schulman’s emailed message was posted in an online discussion group over the weekend and prompted a lot of conversation among members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America.

“I made the joke to people. When i joined the ABAA, all I got was a membership card and a plaque,” Mr. Mac Donnell said. “I didn’t get a gun and badge. Where the hell is my gun and badge?”