Ex-cleaner charged with stealing Franklin bust from Bryn Mawr house

Andrea Lawton is charged in the Aug. 24 Bryn Mawr burglary.
Andrea Lawton is charged in the Aug. 24 Bryn Mawr burglary.
Posted: October 21, 2012

A former cleaning woman has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges that she stole a rare, $3 million bust of Ben Franklin from a Bryn Mawr collector's home.

Andrea Lawton, 46, of Mobile, Ala., was indicted Thursday and has been charged by the U.S. Attorney's Office with one count each of interstate transportation of stolen property and concealing stolen property.

Lawton allegedly helped an accomplice burglarize her former employer's home on the 600 block of Black Rock Road on Aug. 24.

The federal case was investigated by Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigations. Lawton faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $500,000 fine.

Lawton was arrested Sept. 21 in Elkton, Md., as she got off a bus carrying the bust, a 25-pound, 28-inch-high piece made in 1778 by Jean-Antoine Houdon while Franklin was visiting Paris.

But the saga of Ben's bust began the previous month, Lawton told police, after the owner of the Bryn Mawr home fired her.

Lawton said she wanted revenge and so took the one thing that she was warned never to touch - the plaster bust.

Police released those details at a preliminary hearing in Lower Merion several days after Lawton's arrest. At the time, police released an interview in which Lawton said she had an accomplice, a man who broke into the house while she waited in a car.

According to a police statement, the accomplice broke into the house of lawyer George A. D'Angelo by kicking out an air conditioner. The male accomplice grabbed the bust in the drawing room.

But the plan was foiled when a car pulled into the driveway as the thief went back into the house to steal the pedestal the bust stood upon, according to Lawton's statement. Lawton and the accomplice fled, but not before the car's occupants recognized her.

Lawton said she left the bust overnight in a trash bin outside an apartment building near 31st and Parrish Streets. Facing arrest, she fled to a relative's home in Mobile.

Frightened, she hopped on a Greyhound bus. She was arrested as she got off.

The bust was recovered, but it was cracked.

Lawson was returned to prison in Philadelphia with bail set at $1 million.

Authorities are still searching for a another item stolen during the burglary - a shadow box with a picture of operetta composer Victor Herbert and his baton.

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