FBI: 50 artifacts stolen between 1968-1979 with decades of history returned to various Pa., East Coast museums
PHILADELPHIA - Dozens of stolen artifacts, some dating back to the French and Indian war, have been returned to their rightful owners.
The Museum of the American Revolution hosted a ceremony on Monday to display the dozens of items stolen from various museums and historical societies between 1968 and 1979, before they were carefully packaged to go back to 16 different museums in Pennsylvania and five other states.
"Their long absence from public view, away where no one can see or learn from them was a loss both to society and our historic record," said Jacqueline Maguire Special Agent in Charge with the Philadelphia Field Office. "When items from the past are stolen, the real victim is our future."
In December 2021, a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania indicted Michael Corbett of Newark, Delaware, for possession of those firearms and other items stolen from museums in the 1970s.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE: FBI: Artifacts stolen from Pa. museums in 1960s, 1970s returned
In August 2022, Corbett pleaded guilty to the possession of stolen items transported interstate, and, in accordance with his plea agreement, turned over to the government additional stolen firearms to which he had access.
The investigation that led to Corbett and the items, including a search warrant of his Newark home in 2017, involved a nearly decade-long investigation involving the FBI, Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, but it started with two Upper Merion Township Police Detectives with boots-on-the-ground, old-fashioned police work.
Andrew Rathfon and Brendan Dougherty say among the many factors that led to zeroing in on Corbett, the biggest is the use of confidential sources.
"We literally had to seek out the goodness of a lot of people along the way, people who had to admit to crimes from decades ago," said Detective Dougherty.
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Today, the pair recalled a conversation they had back in 2009, after meeting with staff of the now Museum of the American Revolution, about items that were stolen from the Valley Forge Historical Society and other museums.
"We said wouldn’t it be nice if we could get back just one of those items, bring it back to King of Prussia, bring it back to Upper Merion, and here we are 14 years later," said Rathfon.
The recovered items include pistols, muskets, rifles, and other pieces of battlefield history.
Dougherty says Rathfon, his long-time partner, was the one to find the first item during the search of Corbett’s home: a luger pistol belonging to General Omar Bradley, which is now back with the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle.
"It was at that moment we knew we had something, we had something more significant than we had anticipated," said Detective Dougherty.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office says there are still some items stolen from Valley Forge and other locations that they are continuing to work to recover.
"It’s really something to be a part of restoring historic firearms, artifacts to their rightful owners," said District Attorney Kevin Steele.