Ex-official accused of massive National Archives theft
By: Scott McCabe | 09/29/11
Examiner Staff Writer
A former head of the National Archives department that kept the Zapruder film of President Kennedy's assassination has been charged with stealing sound recordings from the agency over the past 10 years.
Leslie Charles Waffen, 66, who worked for the National Archives and Records Administration for 40 years, was charged with theft of U.S. property. Court documents said officials recovered 955 sound recording items from his Rockville home in October 2010.
A plea hearing has been set for Tuesday before federal Judge Peter J. Messitte in Greenbelt. Waffen faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
No attorney was listed for Waffen in court documents.
Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper said Waffen was the head of the motion picture, sound and video unit at the archives' facility in College Park.
The items recovered from Waffen's home were not known to have gone missing, Archives Inspector General Paul Brachfeld said, but their historic content would be apparent.
"I think the American public ... a lot of it will be things they read about in their history books," Brachfeld told the Associated Press.
In 2004, Waffen was quoted in the New York Times about his department's efforts to preserve recordings from an open microphone on a police motorcycle during Kennedy's motorcade into Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the only known audio recording of the president's assassination.
Waffen's department also had custody of the Zapruder film, the famous 8 mm color home movie of the assassination.
In October, special agents from Brachfeld's office served a search warrant at Waffen's home in the 500 block of Saddle Ridge Lane in Rockville.
Archives investigators located boxes of materials and "identified [the items] right away as theirs" in a basement room and, after securing the contents, removed the boxes from the house and loaded them onto the truck.
The raid occurred after a two-year government report cited "significant weaknesses" in the agency's security and a year after another report found that several important historical documents, including the original patent for the Wright Brothers' flying machine, had gone missing.
Ex-Archives official admits theft
By Ruben Castaneda
A former National Archives employee on Tuesday admitted in federal court that he stole nearly 1,000 audio recordings and sold some on eBay.
Leslie C. Waffen, 66, who was chief of the Archives’ audiovisual holdings, pleaded guilty to embezzlement of government property. He is scheduled to be sentenced March 5 in federal court in Greenbelt.
Federal officials said Waffen sold items belonging to the Archives on eBay in September and October of last year. They said they found “documentary evidence” in Waffen’s home he had been selling items belonging to the Archives since at least August 2001.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Arun G. Rao said in court that one item sold by Waffen was an original master copy of a voice recording of Babe Ruth on a December 1937 hunting trip. The recording sold for $34.74, Rao said.
“This case is especially egregious because the defendant was a high-ranking government employee who violated his obligation to protect historical records that belong to the National Archives and Records Administration,” U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said in a statement. “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.”
Authorities said a tipster led them to Waffen, who worked for the Archives for 37 years. Last October, weeks after Waffen retired from the agency,federal agents raided his Rockville home.
Rao said in court that agents seized 6,153 sound recordings from Waffen’s home, and that officials confirmed that 955 of them belonged to the National Archives.
Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said the agency has bolstered security in its facilities. For instance, guards now check the bags of everyone — including employees — leaving the D.C. and College Park facilities, a practice that will be expanded to all Archives’ facilities nationwide, authorities said.
“I am disappointed and angered by Mr. Waffen’s violation of the trust placed in him by colleagues and the American people to safeguard our nation’s history,” Ferriero said. “It is an outrage that an employee entrusted with protecting our heritage became a threat to those holdings.”
Rao said that during sentencing, the government will argue that the recordings Waffen took are valued at at least $70,000. Waffen’s defense attorney will ague the stolen recordings are worth between $30,000 and $70,000.
The audiovisual holdings contain more than 90,000 film, sound and video recordings made by the government and private sources. many are presidential recordings, kept at presidential libraries and museums. Others are held at the Archives’ facility in College Park.
A 2004 New York Times article described Waffen’s efforts to preserve the only known audio recording of John F. Kennedy’s Assassination.
This post has been updated.
By Ruben Castaneda | 12:09 PM ET