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Tuesday
Oct042011

Ex-Archives Worker Sold Recordings on eBay

Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- A man entrusted for four decades with guarding the nation’s most treasured historical records might spend the next 10 years in prison after stealing hundreds of recordings and selling them online.

Leslie Charles Waffen, formerly one of the top officials at the National Archives, pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges he put stolen sound recordings up for sale on eBay.

“This case is especially egregious because the defendant was a high-ranking government employee who violated his obligation to protect historical records,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a prepared statement announcing the plea deal. “These items were entrusted to the National Archives to be used by all citizens, not to be auctioned for personal profit to the highest bidder.”

Investigators say they uncovered Waffen’s “eight-year scheme” in September when he sold a 1937 tape of New York Yankees legend Babe Ruth.

Waffen, 66, sold the recording on eBay for $34.74 under the username “hi-fi_gal.” Federal agents, tipped off to the sale, obtained the tape and traced it back to his work at the National Archives in College Park, Md. They watched and waited and in the next few weeks agents noticed “hi-fi_gal” selling other Archives properties on eBay.

Agents raided Waffen’s home Oct. 26, 2010 in Rockville, Md., a suburb of Washington, D.C. Archives investigators and U.S. Marshals loaded a moving truck with boxes holding 6,153 recordings seized from Waffen’s basement.

As part of the plea deal, Waffen has agreed to forfeit at least 955 of the recordings and will reimburse the federal government for the “full amount of the loss.”

The Archives has hired appraisers to calculate the value of what’s been sold.

Inspector General Paul Brachfeld of the National Archives and Records Administration declined to say what else Waffen stole until after his sentencing March 5. But he hopes the former archivist receives “the strongest sentence possible,” 10 years in prison.

“We want to put people on notice,” Brachfeld told ABC News. “If they steal from our collection, we are going to put them in prison.”

Until last summer, Waffen had spent five years as chief of the Motion Picture, Sounds and Video Recording Branch at the National Archives.  As noted in this New York Times article from 2004, the unit has custody of sound and video recordings of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, including the famed “Zapruder film.” He first began working for the National Archives in 1969.

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