SEATTLE, KOMO NEWS - A Kenmore man was sentenced Friday to 30 days in jail and 90 days of home detention for trying to sell a stolen 18-carat gold bookmark which reportedly was first given to Adolf Hitler by his mistress Eva Braun.
Christain Popescu, 37, also must surrender the historic bookmark to the U.S. government and serve three years on probation.
Popescu could have faced a much harsher sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine for the crime, but the judge decided to impose a sentence within the standard guidelines of zero to six months imprisonment.
Popescu told the judge he was sorry for what he did, that he should not have done it, and that when found out it was stolen, he should have called the police.
But the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Woods, argued for prison time by pointing out that the significance of the Hitler bookmark is not captured by its dollar value.
"Popescu was trafficking in an item of intense historical significance and interest," he said. 'Rather than return the bookmark to its rightful owner, Popescu attempted to make a profit by selling the bookmark in an illicit transaction."
At sentencing, U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez said the bookmark has "great historical value for better or for worse. You had no qualms about selling it to someone who would hide it from the world."
Popescu, a Romanian national, was arrested in November outside a Bellevue Starbucks after trying to sell the bookmark to an undercover agent for $100,000, according to papers filed in U.S. District Court.
Federal prosecutors said the bookmark was among several items taken in an auction-house heist in Madrid, Spain, in October 2002. The bookmark apparently had previously belonged to the family of one of Hitler's armed forces chiefs, who was executed following the Nuremberg trials. At the time, some antiquities experts questioned its authenticity.
The bookmark was reportedly given to Hitler by Braun to console him after German forces surrendered at Stalingrad. The bookmark is engraved with a portrait of Hitler as well as an imperial eagle and swastika.
"My Adolf, don't worry," it reads, adding that the loss was "only an inconvenience that will not break your certainty of victory. My love for you will be eternal, as our Reich will be eternal. Always yours, Eva. 3-2-43."
According to charging papers, Immigration & Customs agents learned last August that Popescu was trying to sell the bookmark in the Seattle area. Through an informant, agents learned that Popescu had shopped the bookmark in the area three years ago, and would pay a 10 percent commission if the informant could find a buyer.
The informant helped arrange the sale to an undercover agent, the papers said.
Court documents show that the agent presented Popescu with two articles about the item being stolen and asked if it was. Popescu answered: "I think so."
The agent also said Popescu told him how difficult it was to move such a piece from Europe into the United States.
When Popescu agreed to sell it to the agent for $100,000, the agent arrested him. Popescu allegedly wanted $150,000 for the bookmark, but settled for $100,000.
Spanish authorities estimated its actual value at $13,000 to $17,000, court documents say.
The auction house had paid the owner about $10,000 to compensate for the loss of the bookmark.
Popescu will receive credit for 5 days already served in jail.
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