U.S. Probe Thickens Ben Franklin Manuscript Plot

     MANHATTAN (CN) – In a new wrinkle for priceless documents, federal prosecutors unveiled a grand jury investigation into the alleged theft of a Ben Franklin manuscript and other antiquarian documents currently subject to civil litigation.
     “A federal grand jury in this district is investigating the theft of eight priceless books from the New York Public Library,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Graham wrote in a letter on Thursday.
     Earlier this month, Nassau resident Margaret Tanchuck filed a lawsuit calling the library’s theft allegations a spurious attempt to lay claim to manuscripts have been in her family for nearly 30 years.
     She found the contested works in her father’s jewelry store while administering her parents’ estates, her lawyers wrote on April 3.
     Dated from between 1759 and 1766, the Franklin workbook alone would fetch more than $2 million, the complaint states.
     There is no dollar value assigned to the seven sacred texts also named in the complaint, including five Bibles from the 17th to 19th centuries and two printings of the “Acta Apostolrum” dated between the 18th and 19th centuries.
     At the time, library spokeswoman Angela Montefinise told Courthouse News there was “no question” that the materials belonged to the library, and they would better serve researchers and patrons than financially benefit a Long Island family.
     Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York threw their hat in the library’s ring.
     “The library informed the United States Attorney’s Office of the theft of the contested items, and the office opened a grand jury investigation into the potential violation of federal law that had occurred within its jurisdiction,” their letter states.
     Library spokesman Ken Weine was quick to celebrate the new revelation.
     “This material was evidently stolen from the library, and now someone is trying to profit from it,” Weine said in a statement. “We will aggressively work to ensure that this material is returned to the public domain where it belongs.”
     Tanchuck’s lawyer Dan Arshack from the Manhattan-based firm Arshack, Hajek & Lehrman asserted, in block capital letters, there was “no evidence” of theft.
     “The fact that the books have not been in the NYPL’s possession for almost 30 years does not establish a theft,” he wrote in an email. “If the NYPL had ever claimed a theft or announced that the items were lost during that almost 30-year period the situation might be different. Instead, the NYPL did nothing. Their silence might well be evidence that the books left the NYPL in an ordinary and legal manner.”
     The grand jury investigation continues here in federal court, and the civil litigation is taking place in Mineola, N.Y.

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