(CBS/AP) WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. - A Vermont man was arrested Friday for allegedly stealing a number of original cards and letters written by poet Robert Frost, and reselling them at a huge markup.
Timothy Bernaby, 42, pleaded not guilty Monday to taking the items from the drawer of a desk donated to the nonprofit agency where he worked, and then selling the Frost writings for more than $25,000 in cash and other goods.
An expert on Robert Frost from Dartmouth College in nearby Hanover, N.H., told police the documents, which include 13 Christmas poems by Frost, a quintessential New England poet and Pulitzer prize winner, and a letter to an employee of Dartmouth, estimated they would not be worth more than $2,600.
The documents remain in the possession of the person who purchased them from Bernaby, said Windsor County State's Attorney Robert Sand.
"Police are in contact with the person who has the documents," Sand said. "The purchaser declined to produce them having spent a fair amount of money to acquire them and was reluctant to turn them over to the police until he was compensated for the purchase price."
Sand said the original owner of the documents does want them back.
The court documents identified the person who bought the documents from Bernaby as Thomas Cady of Plainfield, N.H. Cady told police Bernaby claimed to have found the documents in the trash at the Listen Center in White River Junction, and that they had come from a desk that was being cleaned out after it was donated.
Dartmouth College special collections librarian Jay Satterfield, who estimated the value of the Frost documents for police, said Monday there is an active market for modern literary manuscripts by both institutions and private collectors.
"For a lot of people holding a manuscript that was written in the hand of an author they love creates a connection that the printed book can never do, a contagion of touch," Satterfield said.
He said one of the reasons Dartmouth rarely acquires documents from private parties is to be sure they aren't stolen.
"When we acquire something we are working with dealers we trust. Their reputations hang on that. If they were ever caught doing something illegal, places like us would stop dealing with them," Satterfield said.
Bernaby, who has a minor criminal record, was charged with a single count of grand larceny. If convicted he could be sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Bernaby is free on $5,000 bail.