A University of Wisconsin-Madison student was arrested on charges he stole from Yale signatures of early American figures, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and then sold them.
Benjamin W. Johnson, 21, allegedly stole the documents while working at the University’s Beinecke Library over the summer, Capitol Police Detective Ed Bardon said.
Johnson was being held Wednesday in Dane County Jail on a $10,000 bond after he was charged with theft, Bardon said.
He also faces charges in Connecticut of first-degree larceny and first-degree criminal mischief, Bardon said. He allegedly stole about 70 documents.
Catherine Barnes, president of the Professional Autograph Dealers Association, told police she paid Johnson $3,750 for Washington’s signature Sept. 6 after he contacted her via e-mail.
Barnes said Johnson then offered her other signatures from Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin and John Hancock.
Barnes said Johnson told her he inherited them as part of a complete album of presidential autographs compiled by his father and his uncle. He told her both were deceased.
Johnson’s father works at Yale, Bardon said.
Police initially thought the signatures were part of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s collection.
The society is missing four documents signed by historical figures, but it was determined the missing documents disappeared between 1961 and 1987, spokesman Bob Granflaten said.
He said the society did not discover they were missing until it re-examined its collections after Johnson’s arrest.