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Stolen $3M Benjamin Franklin bust recovered

Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA -- The owner of a stolen portrait bust of Benjamin Franklin valued at $3 million said he was relieved the art treasure had been recovered, but was anxious to know how badly it was damaged.

George A. D'Angelo said he "stopped breathing" when he was told the porcelain object, stolen Aug. 24 from his Bryn Mawr home, had been recovered in Elkton, Md., with a cracked breastplate. The FBI is holding it for fingerprints, so he has yet to see it.

Once "Ben is back," said D'Angelo, 85, a Philadelphia lawyer, he will hire a restoration expert. "I think it can be repaired," said he said. "I hope so. It would be ghastly if it can't."

Andrea Lawton, 46, of Philadelphia and Mobile, Ala., was arrested Friday as she got off a bus in Elkton. She was carrying the bust in a gunny sack, D'Angelo said.

Lawton, also known as Andrea Gresham, was charged with theft, fraud, and interstate transportation of stolen property, according to papers filed in federal court in Philadelphia.

She was employed briefly last summer as a cleaning woman in D'Angelo's home. Three days before the theft, the cleaning company fired her. Witnesses told police she sped away in a maroon Chevrolet Tahoe. She allegedly had broken in by removing an air-conditioning unit.

The 25-pound, 28-inch-high bust was made in 1778 by Jean-Antoine Houdon while Franklin was visiting Paris. Only three others like it exist.

A framed case containing a picture of conductor Victor Herbert, a conductor's baton, an autograph, and a list of his music, valued at $80,000, was also gone. Police told D'Angelo that piece was still missing.

"It's a bizarre story," he said. "She said she doesn't know anything about Victor Herbert" and may have disposed of the picture at a secondhand shop without realizing its value.

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