Home News Stories 2008 January FBI Recovers Stolen Pulitzers

FBI Recovers Stolen Pulitzers

Prized Possessions
FBI Recovers Stolen Pulitzers

A Pulitzer Prize medal awarded in 1928. Courtesy of Columbia University.

A Pulitzer Prize medal awarded in 1928. Courtesy of Columbia University.


01/18/08

The e-mail came like a bolt out of the blue.

Last October 1, a staffer at Newsday—a daily newspaper based in Suffolk County, New York—got a surprising message from a former associate.

Turns out, the associate had seen three prestigious Pulitzer Prize medals awarded to Newsday decades ago mentioned on an Internet auction website. The site said they’d been sold at a California auction just a few days earlier.

Surprising, because everyone at the paper assumed the Pulitzers were still safely tucked away in the company safe.

Newsday had been awarded the prizes in 1954, 1970, and 1974, winning a gold medal in the public service category in journalism each time for its exposés of racetrack scandals and fraudulent land deals and its report on national and international heroin trafficking. A Pulitzer Prize—created by journalist/newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer and awarded every year since 1918—is considered the highest honor in print journalism and other categories.

In 1998—with the permission of Columbia University, which administers the prizes—Newsday commissioned replicas of the medals and put them on display in their New York City offices. The originals were locked away for safekeeping—or so they thought. That was the last time anyone at paper recalls seeing the originals.

When Newsday employees learned of the e-mail, they went straightaway to the safe and opened it. There they found a second lockbox. It’d been so long since anyone had gotten into it, no one could find a key, so they called a locksmith. The next call was to the Suffolk County police: all three medals, as well as the silicone mold used to make the replicas, were gone.

Police investigators traced two of the medals, one to Florida and one to Texas. Since it was now a case of “interstate transport of stolen property,” we were contacted by the Suffolk County police and asked to help. The police department’s Major Case Investigations Unit supported our efforts until the medals were recovered.

“We got the call on a Thursday, and we recovered all of the medals by close of business Friday,” says Special Agent James McCarthy of our New York Division. Three separate FBI offices—New York, Dallas, and Miami—were involved in the quick recovery.

Newsday is glad to have the medals back, but questions remain: who took the medals, which were stored in an area where few employees worked? And how long ago were they taken from the lockbox and safe?

For now, those most likely to have the answers are keeping mum. The Dallas-based auction house that surrendered one of the medals to FBI agents cites a strict confidentiality agreement with its suppliers, which prevents it from disclosing who sold them the medals in the first place.

“The case is still under investigation, so we can’t reveal too much about it,” says Special Agent McCarthy. “We can only confirm that the medals were stolen and that we got them back into the hands of Newsday.”