A French historian pleaded guilty Thursday to stealing dog tags and numerous other documents of U.S. servicemen whose planes crashed during World War II.
Antonin DeHays, a 33-year-old author whose historical research focused largely on events at the French beach at Normandy, where President Dwight D. Eisenhower's troops launched the D-Day invasion, pleaded guilty to the theft of government property from the National Archives and Records Administration.
Between December 2012 and June 2017, DeHays visited the public research room of the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, and stole at least 291 dog tags and 134 records, including personal letters, photographs and small pieces of U.S. aircraft downed during the war, the U.S. Attorney's office in Maryland said in a statement.
Prosecutors say DeHays sold the majority of the items on eBay and elsewhere.
Court documents show he tried to lure one prospective buyer with gritty details of the airmen's dog tags, saying some were burnt or showed stains of fuel and blood, describing them as "very powerful items that witness the violence of the crash."
He didn't sell everything. Officials say he kept some items at his home in College Park, which were seized during a raid, and even donated the stolen dog tags of a downed Tuskegee airman to a military aviation museum in Virginia in exchange for the chance to climb inside a single-seat fighter airplane from World War II.
Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero told The Associated Press that he was appalled by the thefts.
"While I am pleased that we are one step closer to justice in this case, I remain shocked and angered that a historian would show such disregard for records and artifacts. As a veteran, I am disgusted that anyone would steal records and artifacts documenting those captured or killed in the service of their nation," Ferriero said in an email.
Ferriero said changes to procedures in research rooms nationwide have been implemented "to address the methods used by Antonin DeHays."
DeHays wrote a 2015 book titled "Sainte-Mere-Eglise, an American Sanctuary in Normandy 1944-1948." He also worked part time at the Maryland-based nonprofit National History Day.
A spokesman at the nonprofit on Thursday declined comment. After his arrest in June, the organization issued a statement saying DeHays no longer worked there and "seeking personal gain from the sacrifices made by America's heroes is deplorable."
A spokesman for the French Embassy in Washington said DeHays has not asked for consular services since his arrest.
DeHays faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Sentencing is set for early April. His federal public defender did not return a phone call and email Thursday.
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