A Montgomery County man was sentenced to one day in prison for selling a rare, Revolutionary-era rifle that he stole from a Pennsylvania museum decades ago.
Thomas Gavin, 78, of Pottstown, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty in July to disposal of an object of cultural heritage stolen from a museum.
Gavin admitted to stealing the Christian Oerter Rifle from the Valley Forge State Park Museum in 1971. The rifle is a rare surviving 1775 weapon made by Christian Oerter, a master gunsmith from the Christian Springs Philadelphia-area gun-making center.
Officials say the rifle is known to be one of two such rifles to have survived with its original flint mechanism bearing the maker’s name, site and date of manufacture. It’s worth more than $175,000. The other surviving Christian Oerter rifle is in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle in England.
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In his guilty plea, Gavin admitted that he kept the rifle for more than 40 years and sold it in 2018, along with other items he stole from museums in the 1970s.
Gavin was sentenced to one day in prison, three years of supervised release with the first year to be served on home confinement and a $25,000 fine. He was also ordered to pay $23,385 in restitution.
“Stealing an artifact from a museum – literally a piece of American history – is a serious federal offense,” U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams said. “After four decades, justice finally caught up with this defendant. Thanks to the work of our law enforcement partners, the Christian Oerter rifle is safely back where it can be enjoyed by all Americans.”