GREENBELT, Md. (AP) – A former National Archives employee pleaded guilty Tuesday to stealing and selling recordings from his former employer, including an original 1937 sound recording of baseball legend Babe Ruth.
Leslie Charles Waffen, who spent 40 years working at the National Archives and Records Administration, pleaded guilty to stealing property from the agency that safeguards government records including the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Waffen acknowledged stealing at least 955 “sound recording items” from the archives, which were seized from his Maryland home in October 2010. More than 6,000 items were seized at the time, though Tuesday’s hearing in federal court in Greenbelt, Md., did not make clear the nature of the other recordings.
According to a plea agreement Waffen, 66, stole and sold items from the archives between 2001 and 2010, selling some of the recordings on eBay. The sales included an original master recording of Babe Ruth hunting from 1937, which Waffen sold for $34.74.
Prosecutor Arun G. Rao did not disclose the subject of any other recordings that were sold, and Archives Inspector General Paul Brachfeld said he was under strict orders not to reveal more details about what was taken until after sentencing, which is scheduled for March 5, 2012. He did say that the Babe Ruth recording marked the beginning of the investigation into Waffen.
“That’s when we knew there was a theft from our holdings,” Brachfeld said, adding that the recording was a radio interview Ruth did while quail hunting in 1937.
The recording was part of a series of original recordings donated to the archives in the 1970s and processed by Waffen.
The maximum sentence for the theft is 10 years in prison. Government attorneys are asking that Waffen spend at least a year and a half in prison.
Prosecutors and Waffen’s lawyer, Michael Fayad, disagree on the exact amount of the theft. Both sides agree the recordings were worth at least $30,000, though prosecutors argue they are worth over $70,000.
Waffen said little during Tuesday’s hearing except to enter a guilty plea and acknowledge he understood the details. He and his lawyer declined comment following the hearing.
The U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, Rod Rosenstein, said in a statement that the theft was especially egregious because Waffen was a high-ranking employee who violated “his obligation to protect historical records.” “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,” he said. The head of the National Archives, David S. Ferriero, also put out a statement condemning Waffen’s theft and adding that security at the administration’s facilities has been heightened.
Associated Press writer Brett Zongker contributed to this report from Washington.