Man accused of stealing $1M in rare books says they were left to rot

Man accused of stealing $1M in rare books says they were left to rot


Last Updated: 4:10 PM, June 11, 2010

Posted: 4:10 PM, June 11, 2010

It was trash not treasure.

The home-electronics installer accused of pilfering $1 million worth of rare books from a Fifth Avenue mansion owned by the widow of a Vanderbilt heir claimed the precious tomes has been left to rot in the basement.

Timothy Smith, 41, faces a felony grand larceny charge for the alleged theft from the late Carter Burden’s extensive collection of 20th century American literature, including first-edition copies by Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

“These were books [widow Susan Burden] tried to sell and was unable to sell,” said Smith’s attorney Morton Katz at his arraignment Tuesday.

“They were kept in the basement of the building and they had been discarded by her as not valuable,” he said, according to the transcript made public today.

Smith, a book collector himself who is also president of his condo-board at this East 86th Street building, pleaded not guilty and was released on $125,000 bail.

Burden, a 62-year-old philanthropist and psychologist, didn’t return calls for comment.

Katz also disputed that the 51 books prosecutors say were stolen even belonged to Burden.

“A lot of the books belong to the defendant and belong to his wife,” he said. “Many of the books recovered were hers.”

But, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Sciariano said they have proof that Smith was caught red-handed stealing the books as he methodically removed them over several days.

Smith is due back in Manhattan criminal court Monday.

Carter Burden, a multimillionaire descendant of robber baron Commodore Vanderbilt died in 1996.

He was a passionate collector of American literature – especially from the 20th century – and his personal library was regarded as one of the finest collections in the world.

After his death his family donated 30,000 of huis books and rare documents worth $10 million to the Pierpont Morgan Library.

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