John Schulman, the owner of Caliban Book Shop in Oakland, and Greg Priore, a longtime archivist who ran Carnegie Library’s rare book room, were sentenced Friday to lengthy terms of home detention and probation due partly to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Alexander P. Bicket told the two men that but for the pandemic, their sentences would have been stiffer.
“I hope that this sordid period is a learning lesson for everyone, including the Carnegie Library,” Judge Bicket said. “Without a doubt, were it not for the pandemic, the sentencing for both of these defendants would be significantly more impactful.”
In July 2018, both men were charged with stealing and cannibalizing the library’s rare books, then selling off individual hand-colored plates, photographs, maps and prints. Kerry-lee Jeffery, an appraiser with Pall Mall Art Advisors, discovered the theft of about 300-plus items in April 2017 and valued the loss at more than $8 million.
When he confessed to detectives in August 2017, Priore told them, “Greed came over me. I did it, but Schulman spurred me on,” according to their affidavit.
Schulman, who opened his business in 1991, appraised books on the PBS program “Antiques Roadshow” and formerly served on the ethics committee of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America.
Judge Bicket sentenced Schulman, 56, of Squirrel Hill, to four years of home confinement with electronic monitoring and ordered him to pay restitution of $55,731 to people who unwittingly purchased stolen books. Schulman testified that he already has made restitution of more than $100,000. He will remain on probation for 12 years.
Priore, 64, of Oakland, was sentenced to three years of home confinement with electronic monitoring and 12 years probation.
Neither man, Judge Bicket said, may profit from films, books, radio shows or other storytelling platforms “arising out of the facts and circumstances of this case.”
If either man is offered money, the judge said, it must go to a fund to make victims whole, including Travelers Insurance, which paid Carnegie Library $6.57 million for its loss.
Brian Catanzarite, deputy district attorney, asked Judge Bicket to sentence both men in the aggravated range of 25 months. A sentence in the standard range is 9 to 16 months.
Mr. Catanzarite also asked the judge to order the men to make restitution to the library of $2,038,700, the amount of loss not covered by Travelers Insurance.
In 2018, Schulman was charged with 14 counts and Priore was charged with 10 counts in connection with the library thefts.
In a plea agreement, the prosecutor dropped many of the charges. Schulman pleaded guilty to three counts — one count each of theft, receiving stolen property and forgery. Priore pleaded guilty to one count of theft and one count of receiving stolen property.
Judge Bicket fashioned each sentence under the restorative sanctions part of the sentencing guidelines, and both sentences are in the mitigated range.
On Jan. 12, the day before pleading guilty to three felonies — theft by deception, receiving stolen property and forgery — Schulman wrote a long email to four friends. In it, he insisted he was innocent and called the experience “Kafkaesque.”
After the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a story about the email earlier this week, the prosecution added it to its sentencing brief.
When the sentencing hearing began Thursday, Judge Bicket read the email into the court record and led Schulman through the steps of pleading guilty for a second time.
Schulman told the judge the email was “stupid” but said it was addressed to four friends in the book trade who had been supportive.
Before sentencing Schulman Friday, Judge Bicket told him, “I don’t buy your explanation of that email. ... I think it’s an effort at damage control. You blame the library. You blame the detectives. You made a mockery of the process. You made a mockery of the criminal justice system. ... You shouldn’t have done it because it’s going to come back to bite you,” Judge Bicket said.
Robert Del Greco, Schulman’s lawyer, said he was heartened by the fact that his client will not be incarcerated in a county jail or state prison.
Home confinement with electronic monitoring allows convicted felons trips outside their homes for worship and medical care.
Both men also can seek employment. While free on bond, Schulman has continued operating Caliban Book Shop.
His wife, Emily Hetzel, runs a book business called Common Crow Books. She registered it with the state in November 2018.
Patrick Livingston, Priore’s lawyer, declined comment. On Friday, he argued against jail time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that people in confined spaces are at greater risk. His client’s age of 64, he said, put him in the age group most susceptible to the novel coronavirus.
“He doesn’t deserve to risk death,” Mr. Livingston said.
Suzanne Thinnes, a library spokesperson, said in a statement: “We are disappointed that the sentence given to John Schulman and Greg Priore does not reflect the seriousness of the crime they committed.
“Not only were the residents of Pittsburgh robbed of valuable assets that were theirs to see, to learn about and enjoy, but countless collectors across the globe were made made unwitting participants to their fraud. ....The people of our city deserve better.”
Marylynne Pitz: email@example.com; Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org.