Scholar Found Guilty in Theft of Documents
A respected scholar was convicted today of transporting stolen historic documents, including letters from Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, that belonged to the National Archives and the Library of Congress.
Charles Merrill Mount, 59, was charged with interstate transportation of stolen goods. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $500,000 fine when sentenced May 23.
The jury deliberated four hours Friday and met for about 2 1/2 hours more today before returning the verdict.
Mount, a highly regarded biographer and former Guggenheim Foundation fellow, insisted that the documents he sold to a bookshop were his.
Mount’s public defender, Charles McGinty, said bookkeeping at the National Archives and Library of Congress was too spotty to prove those institutions ever owned the documents in question.
Mount was not charged with theft, although the government contended that he took the papers.
In closing arguments Friday, Assistant U.S. Atty. Martin Murphy reiterated the government’s claim that Mount stole the papers and removed their identifying marks.
Mount was accused of selling to a Boston bookshop letters written by artist James McNeill Whistler, Churchill and author Henry James that belonged to the Library of Congress. He was arrested while trying to sell letters and papers signed by Abraham Lincoln and some Civil War generals. The documents allegedly were taken from the National Archives.
Claimed Paris Purchase
Mount, who was born Sherman Suchow, claimed that he bought the Whistler papers at Paris shops in the 1950s and ‘60s and that a priest in Ireland, who has since died, gave him the Civil War papers in 1961.
Mount, who favors a gray bowler hat, a British accent he attributes to neighbors in Brooklyn and dapper suits from the Salvation Army, said he was impoverished after the government seized his savings.
During most of the trial he lived at a YMCA.
The defense noted that Mount over the years gave many of his papers to the Library of Congress. He has written biographies of painters John Singer Sargent, Gilbert Stuart and Claude Monet, and held a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1956.