Published: November 30, 2021
POTTSVILLE, PENN. — Thomas Gavin, 78, has been sentenced to one day in jail for trying to sell an American Revolutionary War-era rifle. The Pottsville, Penn., resident, who is now wheelchair-bound, was apprehended in 2018 when he tried to sell a gun he had stolen in 1971 from Valley Forge State Park Museum. His role in the theft came to light when he tried to sell the gun and other items to an antiques dealer who subsequently recognized it as stolen.
Upon questioning, Gavin’s role in numerous other robberies of other Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century rifles in the 1960s and 1970s came to light; he apologized for the trouble and offered as an explanation that he likes “collecting” old things.
The rifle he stole, made by Moravian gunsmith John Christian Oerter (1747-1777), is one of just two known examples to survive with the original flint mechanism inscribed with the maker’s name, place and date of manufacture. It was reported to have been worth more than $175,000.
“Stealing an artifact from a museum — literally a piece of American history — is a serious federal offense,” US Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams said in a statement. “After four decades, justice finally caught up with this defendant.”
The judge for the case deemed that the statute of limitations on many of the thefts had passed, or the items were worth less than the $5,000 threshold needed for federal charges.
Gavin was sentenced to three years of supervised release that included a year of home confinement, a $25,000 fine and a $23,385 restitution payment in addition to his single day behind bars.
The Philadelphia Inquirer quoted his lawyer as saying he was “a collector of all manner of old things,” with a barn “jammed full” of antique goods.
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