Archivist says he stole to pay the bills

A state archivist and Civil War expert stole hundreds of historic documents and artifacts belonging
An unidentified woman looks through documents at the New York State Archives Research Room in Albany on Monday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
An unidentified woman looks through documents at the New York State Archives Research Room in Albany on Monday.

A state archivist and Civil War expert stole hundreds of historic documents and artifacts belonging to the New York State Library and sold some of them over the Internet, authorities said Monday.

Daniel D. Lorello, 54, of Van Leuven Drive, Rensselaer, was arraigned Monday in Albany City Court on felony charges of third-degree grand larceny, fourth-degree criminal possession of stolen property and first-degree scheme to defraud. He was released without bail and ordered to reappear Feb. 11.

According to Lorello’s hand-written Jan. 24 statement submitted to the court by the state Attorney General’s Office, he stole the items in part to pay $10,000 in credit card bills run up by his daughter. He said he began stealing in about 2002.

“I took things on an as needed basis to pay family bills, such as house renovations, car bills, tuition and my daughter’s credit card problem,” the statement said. Lorello’s statement said he took 300 to 400 items just in 2007.

The thefts were discovered after the state Library was contacted by someone in Virginia who was suspicious about an item offered for sale on eBay — an 1823 letter from the South Carolina politician John Calhoun. That letter was the property of the state Library, as were other items allegedly offered for sale by Lorello on eBay, the online auction site, including a Currier & Ives lithograph.

The Associated Press reported the crime was discovered by Joseph Romito, a Virginia attorney and avid history buff. Romito tipped off authorities after he saw one of the items for sale, a four-page letter from former Vice President John Calhoun written in 1823, listed on eBay.

“I wanted to identify the recipient of the letter,” said Romito, who researched the document and discovered it belonged to the state library.

“These kinds of items … represent the heritage of all Americans,” Romito told The AP. “I am gratified that I had some small part to play in it.”

Lorello also admitted stealing from the Library two copies of the Davey Crockett Almanac, containing material produced by the legendary frontiersman, politician and soldier, which he sold for $3,200 and $2,000 apiece to a collector in Colorado. He also admitted stealing a Poor Richard’s Almanac, published by Benjamin Franklin, which he sold for $1,001, and a visiting card portrait of Civil War general Winfield Scott Hancock, which he sold for either $2,000 or $2,400.

The Hancock portrait, according to Lorello’s statement, was sold to Mike West, “an attorney in Schoharie. I sold this item in the summer of 2007. The transaction took place in the bus lot next to the museum. He gave me cash.”

Lorello worked on the 11th floor of the Cultural Education Center, the same building where the State Museum is located.

Schoharie County Attorney Michael West declined to comment on whether he is the person named by Lorello. “I’m not saying one way or the other,” he said. “… I’ve been asked not to talk.”

West’s name was crossed out in the papers released by the attorney general’s office, and he was not charged with anything. John Milgrim, spokesman for Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, said that given the ongoing investigation it was thought inappropriate to release West’s name to the media. However, he confirmed that the name Mike West does appear on the statement by Lorello that was submitted to the court, and that was seen by the Gazette.

The Associated Press reported that Lorello faces up to 25 years in prison, but Milgrim said that was an exaggeration based on the charges currently filed. Those charges carry maximum sentences of 21⁄3 to seven years for the grand larceny, and 11⁄3 to four years for the stolen property and fraud, he said.

Lorello was suspended without pay from his $72,000-per-year job as an archives and records management specialist. He has worked at state archives since 1979. He oversaw the movement of records during renovation of the archives, an Education Department spokesman, Jonathan Burman, confirmed.

While Lorello worked at the archives, the alleged thefts were from the library’s Manuscripts and Special Collections. Both the library and archives collections are on the windowless top floor of the Cultural Education Center, at the south end of Empire State Plaza. Lorello worked on that floor and had access to both collections, said Christine Ward, assistant commissioner for the state archives.

According to Lorello’s statement, “I estimate that the attorney general’s office recovered approximately 90 percent of everything I’ve ever taken.” The items were recovered from his home.

A press release from the Attorney General’s Office said hundreds of documents have been recovered and will be returned to the Library, and that it is working with eBay to recover other stolen items.

Ward said archives and library staff have tightened security in response to the alleged thefts, but declined to go into detail about that or to say much about Lorello. “He is well known, well respected as an historian of the Civil War,” she said.

Lorello was scheduled to give a March 9 public lecture at the Cultural Education Center about Civil War material in the state archives. He also is listed as compiler of a book published in 1999 by Fordham University Press, “The Union Preserved: A Guide to the Civil War Records in the New York State Archives.”

However, despite his expertise, his statement misspells the name of Winfield Scott Hancock.

In Albany City Court, a public defender entered an innocent plea on behalf of Lorello, but officials said he is expected to engage a private attorney. Court personnel had not been informed about any attorney hired by Lorello as of Monday afternoon. Lorello did not return phone calls to his home.

The library and archives are run by the state Education Department. Education Commissioner Richard Mills, who appeared with Cuomo at a New York City news conference to announce the arrest, said: “We are now assembling respected national experts in research library and archives security. … They will examine current security procedures and will make recommendations to strengthen them. The Board of Regents and I will make their report public and carry out their recommendations.”

Ward said the Library and Archives exist to make documents available to researchers and the public, which is what Lorello did. He is mentioned in the preface of a 2001 book about the Civil War Battle of Ball’s Bluff by Ted Ballard.

“Daniel D. Lorello, New York State Archives, provided a plethora of primary source material on the New York regiments involved in the battle,” Ballard wrote.

Ward said Lorello, like other archivists, has a master’s degree.

Categories: Schenectady County

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