Book bandit pleads guilty to federal charges

PHILADELPHIA -- A professional book thief, the bane of college libraries across the nation, could be sentenced to 20 years in prison and fined $20,000 for stealing more than 500 rare books valued at more than $100,000.

James Shinn, 45, faces sentencing Aug. 30 after pleading guilty Tuesday to a two-count federal indictment charging him with interstate transportation and receiving stolen goods.


Shinn, held in lieu of $100,000 bail, entered his plea after U.S. District Judge Daniel Huyett III refused to suppress evidence seized during FBI searches. Shinn still can appeal Huyett's decision on the evidence suppression.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Samuel Forstein said Shinn faces similar federal charges in Cleveland and other charges in Pennsylvania, California, Illinois and Ohio. He also is charged with an armed robbery in the early 1970s in Jersey County, Ill.

Forstein said Shinn had a number of cards listing book dealers and planned to sell the stolen volumes.

William A. Moffett, the director of libraries for Oberlin College in Ohio, was the first to alert police to Shinn after he saw him at Oberlin last year.

Moffett described Shinn as the most active professional book thief in the United States but Shinn's attorney said he doubts Moffett had any basis for the statement.

Shinn was arrested for trespassing in Oberlin. At his motel room were found boxes of file cards, matching rare books to various libraries, and details of how Shinn allegedly doctored ownership marks.

With the cards, Moffett compiled the 'Shinn list,' which was sent to other libraries to help them search their collections for stolen books.

Moffett also got Shinn's picture and circulated it in library journals.

In December, librarians at Muhlenberg College in Pennsylvania recognized a man inside their building as Shinn from the pictures and alerted police.

Shinn was arrested in Allentown, Pa., on Dec. 16, 1981. FBI agents said they confiscated 16 footlockers and seven suitcases containing the books.

The FBI traced the books to a number of universities, including the University of Michigan, the University of Illinois, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California at Los Angeles.

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