An antique-map dealer whose arrest last year touched off a nationwide search for looted historical treasures admitted Thursday to stealing nearly 100 rare maps from institutions in Chicago, London and on the East Coast.
Hardest hit were map rooms at the New York and Boston public libraries, institutions frequented by 50-year-old E. Forbes Smiley III.
All told, Smiley acknowledged taking 97 maps, valued at about $3 million, authorities said.
The Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., dealer pleaded guilty in two separate Connecticut courts Thursday, first before a federal judge on one count of theft of a major artwork, and later in state court to three counts of first-degree larceny. He was released after posting $50,000 bond.
Each criminal charge stemmed from a June 2005 case, in which Smiley was caught stealing maps from Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library after a staffer noticed a dropped X-Acto knife blade on the floor. Police later confronted him, finding seven maps.
The thefts occurred over seven years. He had faced up to 60 years if convicted of all state charges, but in a combined state and federal plea agreement, he is expected to spend no more than 71 months in federal prison.
With Smiley’s help, most of the maps have been recovered from dealers and galleries, a process U.S. Atty. Kevin J. O’Connor compared to a treasure hunt.
Prosecutors said six maps had not been returned by those who have them, and five others are lost.
The oldest of the 97 items are a 1520 world map by Peter Apian, a European mathematician and astronomer, and a 1524 rendering of the New World by Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes.