Former Archivist Convicted In Recording Thefts

Robert Siegel talks to J. David Goldin about how he led authorities to learn that a long-time employee of the National Archives had been stealing sound recordings. Goldin is the man who donated many of them, and he found one being sold online.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. A man who stole from this country's history was sentenced today. Leslie Waffen was a longtime employee of the National Archives. A Maryland judge gave him 18 months in prison for stealing audio recordings and then selling them on eBay. The 67-year-old man was also sentenced to two years of supervised probation and ordered to pay a $10,000 fine. Waffen worked at the archives for four decades. And authorities were tipped off by the very man who had donated many of those stolen items. J. David Goldin is a retired radio engineer, lives in Connecticut, and he donated a treasure trove of broadcast recordings. And he joins us in the studio. Hi.

J. DAVID GOLDIN: Good afternoon.

SIEGEL: How did you catch on that something from the archives had been stolen?

GOLDIN: There was a blinking light on eBay that said the record I was looking at being offered for sale was mine.

SIEGEL: When was it that you saw this recording for sale on eBay?

GOLDIN: It was in September of 2010. I had owned it at one time. It was a unique recording. I gave it to the National Archives in 1976. And there, it was being offered for sale.

SIEGEL: But this is, I gather, what that recording included.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: How did you find hunting conditions out in the winter for you?

BABE RUTH: Well, I'll tell you, you know, just like this: The early bird gets the worm, and I love worms.

SIEGEL: That bit of wisdom was from Babe Ruth. This was what, in 1937?

GOLDIN: December of 1937.

SIEGEL: Babe Ruth out quail and pheasant hunting, and WOR Radio recording it. What did you figure - when you heard this, you knew you had the only copy of it, initially. You'd given it to the archives. Now, it's for sale on eBay. What's your first reaction?

GOLDIN: My first reaction was puzzlement. I didn't think two of these things could exist. And then I was kind of surprised that, well, if there are only one of these in existence, then it must have been the one I had. And there were, in fact, acquisition numbers on the label.

SIEGEL: This recording eventually sold, by the way, not for very much money. It was under 40 bucks.

GOLDIN: Thirty-four dollars and change. Mr. Waffen did not mark it - his recordings very well.

SIEGEL: How long did it take you to figure out that somebody was stealing from the archives and selling it online?

GOLDIN: I never figured it out. I wrote a letter to the National Archives that said, in effect, hey, guys, if you're giving away the records that I gave you, I'd like to have them back. And almost as soon as I have mailed the letter, the feds were on the phone, saying we don't give anything away from the National Archives.

SIEGEL: How many items in the end was Waffen trying to sell or he had actually stolen?

GOLDIN: They're debating that right now, but a minimum of 960 and a maximum of three, 4,000.

SIEGEL: And among them, how many do you figure were items that you had donated to the National Archive?

GOLDIN: I don't know.

SIEGEL: Did you ever get a chance to - you knew Mr. Waffen, we should say here. Did you ever get a chance to ask him what was going on?

GOLDIN: Just before the hearing this morning, we had a little chat, and he bears me no ill will. And I think he is and was a great archivist, and he made a mistake.

SIEGEL: It sounds like he made several mistakes.

GOLDIN: He made one big one, yes.

SIEGEL: A lot of us here read the story today on the front page of The Washington Post about you. For me, the most important point of that was you love radio.

GOLDIN: Yes. I am - as I used to be called the man who saved radio, not in the sense of salvation, but in the sense of preserving its history.

SIEGEL: You literally saved...

GOLDIN: Saved radio.

SIEGEL: ...recordings of radio in your home in Connecticut.

GOLDIN: Yes, indeed.

SIEGEL: Nowadays, of course, we can make digital replicas of sound recordings which will then be faithfully replicated perfectly in every subsequent digital recording. Does that leave any value for the original reel of tape?

GOLDIN: That's a good question. Let's think of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. You can see them in high definition on the Internet, but there's nothing quite like the original.

SIEGEL: Mr. Goldin, thank you very much...

GOLDIN: My pleasure. Thank you.

SIEGEL: ...for talking with us. J. David Goldin speaking with us about what happened to sound recordings that he had donated to the National Archive and that an archive employee then proceeded to steal and tried to sell.

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