Charges in thefts of Western Washington University library’s books

HELENA, Mont. — A Montana man has been charged in federal court after authorities say he stole several books and maps from a library at Western Washington University and later sold some on the Internet.

James L. Brubaker, 73, of Great Falls was taken into custody Thursday and charged with interstate transportation of stolen property. Brubaker made his initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Great Falls.

Authorities said they seized approximately 1,000 books during a Dec. 12 search of Brubaker’s home. Those items included four books belonging to Bellingham-based Western Washington University, authorities said.

The majority of the books were marked as belonging to some 100 libraries across the country, although authorities did not say whether they had confirmed all the books were stolen. Brubaker was charged only in the WWU case.

Brubaker was being held pending a detention hearing April 1. His federal public defender, Evangelo Arvanetes, said Thursday it was too early to comment on the case.

The investigation began in February 2006, when a librarian for the Wilson Library at Western Washington University noticed large sections missing from a collection of governmental reference books dating back more than 100 years, court records showed.

The investigation determined at least 648 pages of maps and colored plates were missing. The replacement cost was estimated at $21,600.

The librarian, identified as Robert Lopresti, began searching for the documents on the Internet.

“We had no idea it would work, or not, because we had no idea that he would sell them on eBay or not,” Lopresti said in a telephone interview.

Lopresti said he found two federal maps, one of South America and one of New York, listed on eBay that appeared to match ones stolen from his library. He said they had age stains and tears that matched the library’s books.

Working with authorities, Lopresti said he arranged to have two friends on the East Coast purchase the maps, which were forwarded to police. The Washington State Patrol Crime Lab later determined the maps were taken from the library’s books, authorities said.

Brubaker’s house was searched after authorities said they identified him as the seller of the items and found a parking ticket he had received while at Western Washington University around the time the books and maps vanished.

During the search, authorities said they found hundreds of maps and lithographs in envelopes ready for sale on the Internet. The FBI said in a statement that Brubaker’s eBay account had more than 550 items listed for sale. Of those, more than 300 were original maps and lithographs.

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