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'Cunning' Buffalo History Museum thief with 'false accent' gets probation

When A. Conger Goodyear died, his papers went to the Buffalo History Museum, a valuable addition to its collection of landmark letters and documents.

Daniel Jude Witek also had his eye on the Goodyear papers and in 2013 stole some of the philanthropists' letters and, with the help of an alias, tried to sell them to a collector in Manhattan.

Witek, a former museum volunteer, was sentenced Wednesday week  to time served and two years probation.

"I'm usually a man good with words, but I have no words to describe how sorry I am," Witek told by U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny.

As a result of his fraud conviction, Witek faced a recommended sentence of up to 10 months in prison, but prosecutors wanted an even stiffer sentence of three years. They noted that Witek continued to harass museum employees well after his guilty plea.

"He's a cunning individual," said Michael DiGiacomo, an assistant U.S. attorney. "He uses his charm and false British accent to get people to embrace him. It's part of the facade."

Witek, 54, of Buffalo, was arrested after an internationally-known collector emailed the History Museum, inquiring if important Goodyear documents had gone missing.

A few days earlier, the collector had offered $2,750 for five Goodyear letters and postcards being offered by a man who claimed to have several more.

By most accounts, the collector's email that day was the first hint that valuable letters from the Buffalo tycoon-turned-philanthropist might have been stolen from the museum’s archives.

Patrick J. Brown, Witek's defense lawyer, said his client has acknowledged his wrong doing, showed remorse and has been "an altar boy" of late.

In giving Witek probation, Skretny noted that he was in federal custody for more than six months as part of a court-ordered mental health evaluation and that he considered additional prison time to be excessive.

The Goodyear papers are valued because of the owner's reputation as an industrialist and philanthropist. Even more noteworthy, perhaps, was that Goodyear at one point served as president of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Goodyear died in 1964.

Witek's guily plea is the result of an FBI and Secret Service investigation and a prosecution by DiGiacomo and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan P. Cantil.

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