More than a month after the defacing of an ancient piece of Chinese cultural heritage, federal agents in Philadelphia have finally fingered a suspect – a guy, you might say, they now have firmly under their thumb.
Prosecutors allege that Michael Rohana, 24, of Bear, Del., sneaked into the Franklin Institute’s “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor” special exhibit in December and snapped the thumb off one of the priceless statues inside.
With the filched finger shoved in his pocket, he left an after-hours “Ugly Sweater Party” he was attending at the museum that night and kept the clay digit in a desk drawer in his bedroom for more than three weeks.
Luckily, though – said FBI Art Crime Team investigator Jacob B. Archer in an affidavit filed in federal court – Rohana left his thumbprints all over this crime.
Surveillance video purportedly showed him – dressed in a fuzzy green sweater and Phillies cap – skulking into the closed exhibit with friends. He snapped selfies with his arms draped around the $4.5 million statue known as “The Cavalryman,” and was sending Snapchat messages to friends with photos of the purloined digit the next morning.
By the time museum staff reported their thumbless warrior a week later, it took only a few days for the FBI to identify the alleged thief.
According to the affidavit, Rohana’s friends said that they recalled him discussing the thumb on the way home from the party that night. And when agents showed up at the house where he lives with his parents Jan. 13, Rohana – much like brittle, fired clay – purportedly crumbled.
He confessed and led agents to the drawer where he was hiding the thumb.
Rohana was released on bail Friday on art theft charges. It was not immediately clear whether he had retained a lawyer.
Stefanie Santo, a spokeswoman for the Franklin Institute, said Wednesday that thumb and warrior will be reunited, and the statue repaired. The museum has since reviewed its security protocols and determined a contractor did not follow standard procedures the night the theft occurred.
“We thank our security and operations team for the internal investigation they took to provide the FBI with the information necessary to identify the suspect and retrieve the stolen artifact,” she said in a statement. “We also thank the FBI for their swift action in this matter.”
The Cavalryman is one of 10 terracotta figures discovered from the third-century mausoleum of China’s first emperor that are on loan to the museum through March 4.