July 26, 2018
Audits: They’re not just for Al Capone anymore!, Or, How the Carnegie Library got its books back
by Susan Rella
Great news for people who hate scumbag book thieves: the culprits of the Pittsburgh Carnegie Library book heist have finally been caught.
As a devoted MobyLives reader, you’ll remember this story from our reporting in March that 314 rare books and illustrations—worth an estimated $5 million—had been missing since at least April 2017. And you may also remember our subsequent reporting in April that the Carnegie had been warned that they were tempting the book-heist gods with their lax security measures … way back in 1991.
As you’ll recall from our initial article, rare-book dealer Michael Vinson told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the wide swath of topics covered by the stolen works pointed to the crime being perpetrated by someone with intimate knowledge of the collection and its value. Turns out, Vinson was right on the money: Michael Gaynor reported Monday in Vice that one of the two thieves, Greg Priore, was a former archivist at the library. The other culprit? Bookseller John Schulman.
But the story doesn’t start in April 2017. Per the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office, Gaynor reports:
The scheme allegedly began in the late 1990s, when Priore told authorities he began offering to sell books from the closed-to-the-public Oliver Room to Schulman. For his troubles, prosecutors say the bookstore cut Priore $117,700 worth of checks from 2010 to 2017, along with a cash deposit of $17,000 Priore made in the same timeframe.
Priore, apart from having a name perfect for a Dan Brown villain, also apparently has balls made out of titanium, or maybe just out of stupid: Gaynor tells us that investigators are reporting many items were stolen “in plain sight” and then literally walked the few blocks from the Carnegie to Schulman’s bookstore, Caliban Book Shop. For expensive illustrations, Priore would literally cut the pages out with an X-Acto knife, then put the book back on the shelf.
So far, $1.1 million worth of stolen items have been recovered — forty-two of them from Schulman’s warehouse during a nine-day search in the summer of 2017. But the total estimated theft? Per Paula Reed Ward at the Post-Gazette, the prosecution puts that at roughly $8 million. Ward further reports that Priore was not only the archivist but also the manager of the Oliver Room in the library where the thefts occurred.
“I should never have done this,” Priore is quoted as telling authorities, in a story on the thefts for the New York Times by Sarah Mervosh. “I loved that room, my whole working life, and greed came over me.”
Susan Rella is the Director of Production at Melville House, and a former bookseller.