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Archivist sentenced for stealing records

WASHINGTON -- When J. David Goldin saw the recorded interview of baseball great Babe Ruth for sale on eBay, he knew something was wrong. There was only one original record of that 1937 interview of Ruth on a hunting trip, and Goldin had donated it to a government archive more than 30 years ago. Now someone was auctioning it off, the winning bid just $34.75.

"I took one look at the record label and I said, 'Holy smokes, that's my record,' " said the retired radio engineer.

From his home in Connecticut, filled with antique radios and tape reels, Goldin, 64, launched an amateur sleuthing effort that helped uncover a thief ripping off the country's most important repository of historical records.

The heist turned out to be an inside job. The culprit was the recently retired head of the video and sound branch of the National Archives and Records Administration, the government agency entrusted with preserving such documents as the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

Yesterday, a judge in Maryland sentenced the thief, Leslie Charles Waffen, to 18 months in prison and fined him $10,000. Waffen, who had worked at the National Archives for 40 years, acknowledged stealing thousands of sound recordings from the archive.

Prosecutors said more than 1,000 were sold on eBay in thefts that started as early as 2001. The stolen recordings ranged from one of the 1948 World Series to an eyewitness report of the Hindenburg crash.

It was Goldin's meticulous record-keeping and some sleuthing worthy of a modern-day detective drama that brought Waffen to authorities' attention and helped catch him.

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