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Delusion Caused Theft of Millions in Books, Attorney Says

January 24, 1991

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) _ A delusion causes Stephen Blumberg to believe he is the ″guardian of the past″ and led him to steal millions of dollars worth of rare books, his attorney said Wednesday at his trial.

″Every habit, every waking moment was in the pursuit of this delusion,″ said the lawyer, Don Nickerson. ″He believes he is the guardian of the past, a protector of some bygone era which he is locked into.″

Nickerson said Blumberg, 42, admits to a career of stealing - ″which he would call rescuing″ - books and antiques worth an estimated $20 million, but he said Blumberg should be found innocent by reason of insanity.

In opening remarks to a jury seated earlier in the day, Nickerson said the insanity defense ″is not contrived″ and that Blumberg has battled diagnosed mental illnesses for 25 years.

Prosecutor Linda Reade did not attempt to strike down the insanity defense during her opening remarks, instead outlining the breadth of Blumberg’s illegal activities.

Blumberg is charged with possession of stolen property, two counts of interstate transportation of stolen property and conspiracy.

She said that libraries with simple security systems were easy marks and Blumberg simply ″stuffed books into his pockets.″ In others, he used razor blades or sandpaper to cut away identifying marks of rare books, then disguised them to appear to be his own books.

The first bit of evidence Ms. Reade introduced were keys she said were stolen from libraries and seized from Blumberg’s home in Ottumwa. Des Moines FBI agent David Oxler testified that the keys still fit locks to collections at UCLA, Harvard, Washington State and other universities.

Ms. Reade also said Blumberg obtained many books by presenting identification claiming he was University of Minnesota Professor Matthew H. McGue.

The FBI found 28,000 books stashed at Blumberg’s home in Ottumwa, warehouses in Ottumwa and Amarillo, Texas, and his apartment in Minneapolis.

″I was shocked,″ said Oxler, who coordinated a raid in March on Blumberg’s Ottumwa home. ″Lining every available wall space - and this is an old house with tall ceilings - were book shelves completely filled with books.″

Oxler said agents recovered evidence that Blumberg had visited 327 libraries, museums or other institutions in 45 states, the District of Columbia and Canada.

Nickerson said Blumberg didn’t make any money on the books, since he never sold any of them.

″It’s not greed which motivated this man, but a love for time past,″ Nickerson said. ″He revered these books.″

Nickerson said Blumberg lived frugally and that most of his money came from a family trust. He said the family history was ″sad″ and that ″the reason he retreated into this delusion was because home was not the best place to be. Tension progressed to aggression between the parents.″

Blumberg watched the proceedings impassively. Prosecutors were to continue presenting evidence Thursday. Attorneys said the trial will take at least 10 days.

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