Calling an intern's theft of historical documents from the National Archives in Philadelphia a wound inflicted on the "whole American populace," a federal judge yesterday sentenced the 40-year-old wrongdoer to 15 months in federal prison.
In doing so, U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell said he was taking into account the seriousness of the offense to this country's historical legacy and noted that "others must be deterred."
Denning McTague, originally of New York, worked as an unpaid intern at the National Archives office here last summer. During that time, he stole 164 documents and sold about half on eBay.
He pleaded guilty in April to theft of government property.
In court yesterday, McTague, bespectacled and in a blue blazer, apologized profoundly to the National Archives. When he spoke of the disgrace he brought upon himself and his family, he broke down in tears. His wife, Emma, also sobbed as she sat in the courtroom gallery.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Susan L. Fields contended that McTague resorted to theft for two reasons: He needed the money, and he wanted to exact revenge for perceived on-the-job slights.
Over the summer, McTague grew angry seeing other interns with less experience getting paid, while he was not financially rewarded, she said.
At the time, McTague, who resides in the Spring Garden section with his wife, was completing a master's degree at the State University of New York in Albany.
Defense attorney Eric W. Sitarchuk, however, said that his client's anger came not from revenge, but instead from his financial frustrations, including his inability to get a library job in Philadelphia. He pointed out that his client helped authorities retrieve documents sold on eBay.
The judge, in imposing his sentence, repeatedly referred to an impact statement written by Allen Weinstein, head of the National Archives and Records Administration in Washington.
In the letter, Weinstein noted that McTague's theft impacts the people of the United States because, among other things, the "hidden" clues in the records stolen "could be lost forever from the nation's official record, thereby depriving current and future generations a portion of their historical legacy."
The documents McTague pilfered were valued at $24,271.61, the letter said.
The most valuable item taken was a letter from Confederate Gen. James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart, a Civil War hero.
Court papers filed earlier in the case by prosecutors said McTague would slip the documents inside a yellow legal pad and place the pad in his backpack before leaving the Archives building in Center City.
McTague sold about half of the documents on eBay, making about $9,000, according to information provided by investigators with the National Archives office in College Park, Md., who spoke after yesterday's sentencing.
Federal authorities were able to recover 161 of the 164 documents. The three letters still missing are noted more for the graphics on their letterhead rather than for whom the letter writers were, said Mitchell Yockelson, an investigative archivist in College Park. *