Chilmark man pleads guilty to stealing valuable, antique maps from Yale Library
E. Forbes Smiley III, 50, of Chilmark, a dealer in antique maps, pled guilty Thursday before United States District Judge Janet Bond Arterton in New Haven in connection with the theft of several rare, antique maps belonging to Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in June, 2005.
Mr. Smiley pled guilty to a federal charge of theft of major artwork as part of a plea deal worked out with prosecutors. In pleading guilty, Mr. Smiley also admitted to the theft of an additional 96 rare maps that he removed from libraries and other institutions around the country and in the United Kingdom, and then sold to private dealers or collectors, according to a press release from the office of Kevin J. O'Connor, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut. Most of these maps have since been recovered.
E. Forbes Smiley 3rd of Chilmark pled guilty in both Connecticut and federal courts to map thefts. Photo Courtesy of Hartford Courant
Following the guilty plea proceeding in federal court, Mr. Smiley pled guilty in state court to larceny charges in relation to the theft of maps from the Beinecke Library.
Judge Arterton scheduled sentencing for September 21. Mr. Smiley faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of up to $1,610,400.
The Government estimates the total value of the 97 maps stolen to be in excess of $3 million.
The charge that Mr. Smiley specifically pleaded guilty to relates to his theft of "Vninersi Orbis, sevterreni glo," a map of the world published in or about 1578. The map has an estimated retail value of $150,000.
This theft investigation involved the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Yale University Police Department. The Boston Police Department, Security Division for the New York Public Library, the Harvard University Police Department, and the London Metropolitan Police.
"I want to commend the FBI, and all who assisted in this investigation, for scouring the globe at a great expense of time, effort and financial resources in order to return these stolen maps to their rightful owners," U.S. Attorney O'Connor said. "This case should serve as a cautionary tale for institutions that house rare and valuable books, maps and other cultural artifacts. While most individuals who have access to these artifacts have legitimate scholarly purposes and treat them with respect, there are a dishonest few who will behave criminally when given the chance. Hopefully, security procedures in these institutions have been, and will continue to be, improved so that these artifacts can be protected and enjoyed by all for generations to come."
According to an account provided by the U.S. Attorney's office and based on documents filed with the Court and statements made in court, on June 8, 2005, Mr. Smiley visited the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library in New Haven and requested to view several books containing historical maps.
"As a professional dealer of rare maps, he often visited institutions with significant map collections. At approximately 11 a.m., the head of public services for the Beinecke Library reported finding an Exacto knife blade on the floor of the Rare Document Reading Room. She also noticed a man in the reading room looking at books containing rare maps, and, after reviewing the library register, identified the man as Mr. Smiley. She then searched for Mr. Smiley's name on the Internet, discovered that he was a dealer in rare maps and notified the security supervisor for the Beinecke Library, who began video and in-person surveillance of Mr. Smiley. The security supervisor then called the Yale University Police Department, which dispatched a detective to the scene.
At approximately 3 pm, Mr. Smiley exited the library. A few blocks away, the detective confronted Mr. Smiley who revealed that he had seven maps in his possession: (1) "Typvs Orbis Terrarvm"; (2) "Part of America, Part of China"; (3) "Vninersi Orbis, sevterreni glo"; (4) "Septentrio vniuersalis descriptio"; (5) "New America"; (6) "Lac Svperievr"; and (7) "Carte generalle de la nouvelle France." Mr. Smiley was arrested at that time.
On June 9, 2005, the Beinecke Library confirmed with the Yale University Police Department that the Library was missing certain maps, including items (1), (2), and (3), which had been a part of books checked out by Mr. Smiley on the previous day. On June 15, 2005, a book appraiser and advisor to the Beinecke Library appraised the maps and confirmed that the above listed items were stolen from the Beinecke Library based on markings unique to the maps and other evidence."
According to investigators, Mr. Smiley has cooperated in the investigation led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the United States Attorney's Office. To date, he has identified 97 maps that he stole from a number of universities and libraries in the U.S. and abroad between January 1998 and June 2005. In addition to the Beinecke Library, he stole maps from the Boston Public Library, the British Library in London, the Houghton Library at Harvard University, the Massa- chusetts Historical Society, the Newberry Library in Chicago, the New York Public Library, and the Yale University Sterling Map Library. Approximately 86 maps have been physically recovered by law enforcement, six maps are in the custody of other known individuals who have not returned the maps, and five maps are either lost or their location is unknown at the present time.
According to news accounts in the Hartford Courant, Mr. Smiley is well known in the rarified world of antique map dealers and helped the New York Public Library build its Lawrence Slaughter collection of English maps, charts, atlases, globes and books tied to Colonial North America. He also played a role in helping the Boston Public Library add to its collection.
Mr. Smiley may be best known in Chilmark as the owner of a modular home hauled in nine parts by barge from Port Elizabeth, New Jersey and erected on a building site on North Road.
In a letter to the editor published in The Times on Feb. 17, 2005 Mr. Smiley apologized "to the kind people of Chilmark," for the visual disturbance caused by the construction. He said he planned to face the building in old stone and screen it from the road. The house remains uncompleted.