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custodian tried to sell stolen Book of Hours



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custodian tried to sell stolen Book of Hours

By BRUCE LAMBERT, NY Times
It was a case of "Cops" meets "Antiques Roadshow."

A custodian at the Seventh Regiment Armory on Park Avenue was arrested on
Sunday, the police said yesterday, when he tried to sell a $150,000
hand-illuminated manuscript at an antiquarian book fair there. The rare book,
called the "Book of Hours," a religious text that dates to 1667, had been
reported stolen from an antiques show at the armory in 1998. The police said the
custodian, Joseph DeMaio, 54, of Brooklyn, took the missing book and two stolen
antique sketches to the armory and showed them to a dealer at the fair. The
dealer noticed that the items had the small mark of another dealer -- the one
from whom all three pieces had been stolen in 1998 -- and went to that booth to
confer about their worth. The victimized dealer immediately recognized the
contraband. Quietly, that dealer alerted Detective Christine Fortune, an
off-duty police officer who was providing security for the book fair. She
notified the Police Department's Special Fraud Squad and kept her eye on Mr.
DeMaio until Detective George Boefer arrived to make the arrest and seize the
goods. The police would not identify the dealers involved. The stolen book has
leather and wood covers and is 8.5 by 5 by 1 inch. Various versions of the "Book
of Hours," generally compact but exquisitely ornamented prayer books, were
especially treasured by wealthy people in the Middle Ages. "I'm not even sure
what language it is, but it's incredible," Inspector Joseph Reznick, commander
of the Police Department's Special Investigations Division, said after he
examined the recovered book at Police Headquarters. He said he was especially
impressed with its vivid colors and artistic depictions of Jesus Christ and
angels. Although the book is being retained as evidence for now, the ultimate
owner has become Lloyds of London, since it paid off an insurance claim after
the theft. The two sketches are of lesser value, which the police estimated at a
total of $17,000. The police said that Mr. DeMaio made statements to them, but
they declined to elaborate. He was charged with possession of stolen property
and grand larceny, both felonies. He was released without bail pending further
court hearings. The police said he had no prior criminal record. Calls seeking
comment from the management of the armory, which is at 643 Park Avenue between
66th and 67th Streets, were not returned.

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