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Former National Archives worker pleads guilty to selling recordings

October 4, 2011 |  2:25 pm

A former National Archives employee pleaded guilty Tuesday to selling on EBay sound recordings he stole from the government, including a 1937 recording of Babe Ruth.

Leslie Charles Waffen, 66, of Rockville, Md., pleaded guilty in federal court in Greenbelt, Md., to embezzling government property, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Maryland.

Waffen, a former chief of the Motion Picture, Sounds and Video Recording Branch of the Special Media Archives Services Division, sold a copy of the recording of Ruth on EBay in 2010 for $34.74, according to authorities. The recording, which captures the baseball great on a hunting trip, was recovered from the buyer.

Last fall authorities seized at least 955 recordings belonging to the archives and worth at least $30,000 from Waffen’s home, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

"While I am pleased that we are one step closer to justice in this case, I am disappointed and angered by Mr. Waffen’s violation of the trust placed in him by colleagues and the American people to safeguard our nation’s history,’’ Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero said in a statement. "It is an outrage that an employee entrusted with protecting our heritage became a threat to those holdings."

Ferriero said the archives has tightened security at its facilities, including requiring officers to check bags of visitors and staff alike - -"including mine" -- at the Washington, D.C., and College Park, Md., facilities.

Sentencing for Waffen, who faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, is scheduled for March 5.

In 2007, a National Archives intern in Philadelphia was sentenced to 15 months in prison for stealing 164 Civil War documents, including the War Department's announcement of President Lincoln’s death -- and selling many of them on EBay.

The National Archives recently recovered a handwritten document signed by Lincoln that had been filched from the government, but it could not say when it was taken or by whom. One expert speculated it might have been taken decades ago.


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Photo: Babe Ruth homers in a 1929 exhibition game against the Boston Braves in St. Petersburg, Fla. Credit: Associated Press