Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ex-official accused of massive National Archives theft

Scott McCabe

A former head of the National Archives department that kept the Zapruder film of President Kennedy's assassination has been charged with stealing sound recordings from the agency over the past 10 years.

Leslie Charles Waffen, 66, who worked for the National Archives and Records Administration for 40 years, was charged with theft of U.S. property. Court documents said officials recovered 955 sound recording items from his Rockville home in October 2010.

A plea hearing has been set for Tuesday before federal Judge Peter J. Messitte in Greenbelt. Waffen faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

No attorney was listed for Waffen in court documents.

Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper said Waffen was the head of the motion picture, sound and video unit at the archives' facility in College Park.

The items recovered from Waffen's home were not known to have gone missing, Archives Inspector General Paul Brachfeld said, but their historic content would be apparent.

"I think the American public ... a lot of it will be things they read about in their history books," Brachfeld told the Associated Press.

In 2004, Waffen was quoted in the New York Times about his department's efforts to preserve recordings from an open microphone on a police motorcycle during Kennedy's motorcade into Dealey Plaza in Dallas, the only known audio recording of the president's assassination.

Waffen's department also had custody of the Zapruder film, the famous 8 mm color home movie of the assassination.

In October, special agents from Brachfeld's office served a search warrant at Waffen's home in the 500 block of Saddle Ridge Lane in Rockville.

Archives investigators located boxes of materials and "identified [the items] right away as theirs" in a basement room and, after securing the contents, removed the boxes from the house and loaded them onto the truck.

The raid occurred after a two-year government report cited "significant weaknesses" in the agency's security and a year after another report found that several important historical documents, including the original patent for the Wright Brothers' flying machine, had gone missing.

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