Federal agents have recovered in Virginia a rare first-edition of the Book of Mormon, believed to have been stolen from a downtown Mesa, Ariz., bookstore over the Memorial Day weekend, the FBI's Washington field office said Thursday.
The book, considered to be the sacred text of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was taken from a rare books and art store owned by 88-year-old Helen Spencer Schlie, who once filled in as a substitute Sunday school teacher in Bloomfield Hills., Mich., for Mitt Romney, now the Republican presidential hopeful.
FBI officials said the bureau assisted in the recovery of the book at the request of the Mesa Police Department through the FBI's Art Theft Program.
Jay Michael Linford, 48, of Gilbert, Ariz., and of Palmyra, N.Y., was arrested June 12 at the apartment of a friend in Herndon, where he was staying. A search warrant recovered the book, first published in 1830. The friend was not implicated in the suspected theft.
Mr. Linford currently is in custody and awaiting extradition to Arizona, where he faces charges of theft and trafficking in stolen property. He is accused of taking the book from the Rare and Out of Date Print Books and Art Store in Mesa.
In a telephone interview with The Washington Times, Mrs. Schlie said Mr. Linford was her publisher, trusted friend and also a member of the Mormon Church. She said she bought the book in the 1960s and that several people have since asked to have their picture taken with it because of its significance to the church.
She said she reported it stolen after discovering it missing from a fireproofed but unlocked cabinet in her store. Her store is one block from the Mormon Temple in Mesa.
"The news of the book's recovery has been both good and bad," she said, referring to the arrest of someone she trusted. "But I do have great relief. I am glad that I will soon have it back. I've had the book for decades."
She said she was a member of the same LDS Ward in Michigan when Mr. Romney was 15, and was friends with his mother. Asked about his run for the presidency, she said she was "delighted."
Valued at between $30,000 and $40,000, the book is one of 5,000 copies printed in 1830.
There were early reports that Mr. Linford may have sold some pages out of the 588-page, leather-bound book to a Dallas area book dealer. He is being held at the Fairfax County Detention Facility on $40,000 bond pending extradition to Arizona.
The LDS faithful believe the Book of Mormon was transcribed from golden plates given to the prophet Joseph Smith in 1827 by an angel named Moroni as evidence of the restoration of Christ's true church in the latter days.
Ironically, Palmyra, N.Y., where Mr. Linder has a business known as Experience Press, is considered the birthplace of the Mormon Church and where Smith lived and is believed to have received the golden plates. It also is where the first Book of Mormon was published.
In addition to the Mesa Police Department, the FBI investigation was conducted in partnership with the Herndon Police Department, the U.S. Marshals Service, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The FBI's Art Theft Program is a rapid deployment team consisting of 14 agents assigned to various field offices throughout the United States, including Washington. To date, the team has recovered more than 2,650 items valued at over $150 million.
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