A librarian, a shopkeeper and an $8M rare book heist
For 25 years, Greg Priore was responsible for watching over the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s rarest and oldest collections.
By the time the library fired Priore in 2017, detectives say he had helped smuggle, destroy and sell more than $8 million worth of rare books he was responsible for protecting.
Priore, 61, is charged with nine felonies and a misdemeanor, including receiving stolen property, conspiracy, forgery and library theft, in an alleged scheme that spanned decades and often involved Priore carrying rare, expensive pieces from the library’s Oliver Room and handing them off to rare book salesman John Schulman to sell at his store, the Caliban Book Shop.
Schulman, 54, faces 20 charges, most of them felonies, including forgery, theft by deception and conspiracy.
Detectives with the Allegheny County District Attorney’s Office began investigating in June 2017 after a scheduled appraisal of the collections library’s William R. Oliver Special Collections Room. The appraisal, by Pall Mall Art Advisors, found “multiple items as being missing or damaged,” according to the criminal complaint filed Friday against Priore and Schulman.
Damaged items included images, maps and plates torn or cut from books, atlases and folios, “oftentimes rendering the remaining item worthless,” detectives wrote in the complaint.
A closer inspection comparing the room’s contents to the last appraisal done in 1991 found that about 320 items were missing from the room and another 16 were vandalized by the removal of certain portions of the book, according to the complaint.
The value of the missing and damaged items totaled just over $8.1 million, police wrote.
Online searches by PMAA appraisers turned up an item found to be missing from the library’s Oliver room, according to police. The book “Genealogie deorum gentilium” was found to have been sold in 2012 through Bloomsbury Auctions, and tracing the movements of the book backward led to Caliban Book Shop, according to police.
Other books listed as either for sale or sold online traced back to Schulman’s book shop as well, police said.
During an Aug. 24 search of his home, Priore told detectives that he approached Schulman in the late 1990s about selling some items from the Oliver Room and Schulman agreed, according to police.
That began more than two decades of alleged thefts that Priore often did little to hide, police said.
“Priore stated that he did not always conceal removing items from the premise,” detectives wrote in the complaint. “If it were a small map or plate, he would place it in a manila folder. If it were a large map or plate, he would simply roll it up and carry it out. And with books, he would just carry them out.”
The Caliban Book Shop was just a block away from the library, and Priore told police that he would stop there on his way home to deliver stolen items for Schulman to sell, according to the complaint. Priore was paid up front, usually with a Caliban check.
Priore told police that he used the money he received from Schulman to “stay afloat,” detectives wrote. He said he used it for rent and to pay tuition for his children.
He also told detectives he expected “fallout down the line.”
“I should have never done this,” Priore told investigators, according to the complaint. “I loved that room, my whole working life, and greed overcame me. I did it, but Schulman spurred me on.”
Police said a search of the Caliban warehouse in Wilkinsburg turned up a number of items taken from the Oliver Room. Receipts seized from the warehouse included 54 for stolen items. Ebay listings by Schulman under the user name “rarebookstore” showed dozens of sales of items that matched those missing from the Oliver Room, according to the complaint.
Over the years, witnesses heard Priore and Schulman discussing the thefts and sales, police said.
Former library employee Jennifer Jarvis told investigators that she once saw Schulman in the Oliver Room with Priore, according to the complaint.
“She knew that this area was closed to the public and was concerned as to why he was allowed in the area,” detectives wrote, adding that Jarvis told police she heard the pair discussing how much individual plates would be worth if taken from the book.
Caliban Book Shop patron Patrick Dowd said he was in the store April 7 and heard Schulman having a phone conversation regarding library matters.
“He seemed dismissive of ‘the librarian’ and said he will be the person to blame since he has assets,” Dowd told detectives, according to the complaint.
The District Attorney’s Office said both Schulman and Priore turned themselves in to detectives Friday morning. Preliminary hearings for both are scheduled for Aug.1.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, [email protected] or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.