Woman accused of stealing $3M bust to be jailed until her trial

The 18th-century bust of Ben Franklin,
The 18th-century bust of Ben Franklin, (allegedly stolen from a Bryn Mawr home, was recovered by FBI at a Md. bus station.)
Posted: September 30, 2012

Is a former housekeeper who uses 13 names, has skipped court appearances, and has a rap sheet for burglary likely to stick around to face federal charges for stealing a $3 million bust of Ben Franklin?

No, a U.S. magistrate ruled Friday.

Andrea Lawton, 46, charged with filching the portrait bust from a Bryn Mawr home, will not be released before trial.

"The defendant is about as high a flight risk as you can imagine," Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Khan said at a court hearing in Philadelphia. Magistrate M. Faith Angell agreed.

Khan said Lawton had been arrested for misleading authorities about her identity and, over the years, has used six Social Security numbers and seven birth dates.

Martin Isenberg, the court-appointed defense counsel, countered that Lawton was not a danger to the community because she is married and raising a stepdaughter, and has lived in Philadelphia for two decades.

Angell's decision means Lawton will return to the federal lockup in Philadelphia, where she was transferred Sept. 21 after alighting from a Greyhound bus in Elkton, Md. She was traveling under the name Kay Brown .

FBI and IRS officials, acting on a tip, were there to meet her, and recovered the Franklin bust that Lawton allegedly stole Aug. 24 from the home of lawyer George A. D'Angelo. The art treasure, a 25-pound plaster likeness of Franklin made in 1778, sustained a deep crack when it traveled in a duffel bag placed in a storage compartment beneath the bus.

Lawton initially fled to her cousin's home in Mobile, Ala., and after three weeks returned to the East Coast with the aim of selling the artifact on the black market, according to testimony.

She is accused of breaking into the home on Black Rock Road by removing an air conditioner. Court papers say she took the bust, a shadow box containing a picture of the composer Victor Herbert, and related artifacts.

The Herbert picture, valued at $80,000, has not been found.

Khan told the judge that Lawton admitted that the crime had been motivated by revenge, as her former employer had asked a housecleaning service to fire her after just three months on the job.

Ironically, Khan said, that job was "the only remotely positive light in a long criminal history" that includes burglary and lying to authorities about her identity.

Isenberg termed the prosecutor's emphasis on Lawton's aliases "somewhat overplayed," saying they included her maiden name and another name reflecting a previous marriage.

Angell said a pretrial report about Lawton indicated she was on medication for a mental-health ailment. Isenberg told the court that Lawton had been addicted to illegal drugs, but now was clean.

Lawton did not speak during the hearing. She appeared in light-green prison garb with a black headscarf covering her hair.

When Angell reviewed the prosecution's detention motion, Lawton could be seen mouthing, "Wow."

She shook her head in apparent disbelief when Angell ordered her to be held in the federal lockup until her trial.

The bust of Franklin is one of a very few like it made in the late 1700s when he was ambassador to France, begging for support for the American Revolution.

D'Angelo said he "stopped breathing" Sept. 21 when he got the call that the bust had been recovered and learned it was damaged.

He said he would hire a restoration expert to repair it.


Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8232

or bcook@phillynews.com.

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