Map Thief Heads To Jail

A Connecticut judge sentenced map thief E. Forbes Smiley III to five years in prison Friday, ending a saga that began after Yale University librarians found his Exacto knife on the floor of their rare books library—a smoking gun in the 15-month-long case.

Smiley’s five-year sentence follows a three-and-a-half-year sentence handed down last month in federal court, after the 50-year-old admitted to stealing nearly 100 rare maps, including eight from Harvard’s Houghton Library.

Smiley, whose federal sentence begins Jan. 4, will serve his two sentences concurrently. His attorney, Richard Reeve, said that Smiley would likely spend a total of three years in prison on account of good behavior. Smiley’s federal sentence includes $2 million in restitution.

Smiley stole 98 maps from institutions including the New York Public Library, the British Library, and the Boston Public Library, and he assisted investigators in recovering nearly half of the stolen items.

Prosecutors argued in federal court that Smiley stole the maps because he needed the money and out of resentment he felt towards libraries “Other thefts he explained resulted from some misguided sense of entitlement to the maps because he had, through collectors, provided better versions of the same map to the institution. He also acknowledged that stealing maps was profitable and he had mounting debts,” federal prosecutors wrote in court papers.

Many librarians expressed disappointment when Smiley did not receive the maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Along with other affected libraries, Harvard College Library submitted victim impact statements urging the court to punish Smiley under the fullest extent of the law.

“At any time in the future, when readers use any book that was previously used by Mr. Smiley, those individuals must always wonder if their observations and conclusions will be rendered invalid because his actions removed, and thus disguised, vital evidence,” wrote Nancy M. Cline, the Larsen librarian of Harvard College, in her impact statement.

But the prosecution was pleased with Smiley’s three-and-a-half-year sentence, crediting Smiley for helping them recover the maps he stole over a seven-year period.

—Materials from the Associated Press were used in the reporting of this story.

—Staff writer Brittney L. Moraski can be reached at bmoraski@fas.harvard.edu.