July 21, 2010
— A customs declaration form filled out by astronaut Neil Armstrong was allegedly stolen by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection worker and his friend, who together attempted to sell it at auction, announced federal prosecutors Tuesday on the 41st anniversary of the first moonwalker's historic "small step."
If found guilty of stealing and conveying an official record of the United States, the two men could each face up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, according to the United States Attorney's Office.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) technician Thomas Chapman was working at Logan International Airport in Boston on March 13, when he came into contact with Mr. Armstrong, who had just returned from overseas
visiting with U.S. troops as part of the "Legends of Aerospace Tour" organized by Morale Entertainment. Armstrong and his fellow famous aviators and astronauts were scheduled to land in New York City but severe weather diverted their plane to Massachusetts.
Chapman received Armstrong's signed declaration form as the moonwalker passed through the airport's checkpoint and even assisted the astronaut with carrying his luggage to the bus that would take him to New York. Instead of then properly filing the form with Department of Homeland Security officials however, authorities say Chapman kept the document.
|As acquired by collectSPACE, Neil Armstrong's form as it was displayed on RRAuction.com. (details blurred by collectSPACE)|
The next day, Chapman is claimed to have brought the signed form to the home of Paul Brickman and together, prosectors say, they solicited help from an individual with experience dealing with collectible signatures. In turn, that individual consigned the document to RR Auction, a New Hampshire-based auction house that specializes in selling celebrity-signed material, including astronaut autographs.
Opening May 22 for bids at $200, the Armstrong customs form, which also included the moonwalker's address and other personal details, reached $1,026 before being pulled by the auction house in response to hearing from a former client with concerns over the legality of the sale.
"My first concern is over the legality of offering such a recently signed government document for sale," wrote the concerned autograph collector, who shared the e-mail he sent with collectSPACE.com on condition of anonymity.
"It must have been sent to you by the federal employee responsible for it within days of it being signed. Shouldn't it be in a government file somewhere with all the other ones from that date?" he asked.
The collector wrote Tuesday that RR Auction "did the right thing very quickly when it was called to their attention." The document was turned over to federal authorities soon after the company removed it from their website.
Armstrong, who with Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon
on July 20, 1969, signed autographs for his fans for decades following his return to Earth. In 1994, Armstrong ceased signing, citing in part internet sales of his autograph. Since then, photos and other items with his authentic signature have sold for thousands of dollars.
This is the second high-profile, federal theft case involving astronaut-related items in as many months. In June, a former space worker was charged with stealing
first U.S. female astronaut Sally Ride’s flight suit in addition to several space shuttle artifacts.