A 78-year-old Philadelphia man has been sentenced to spend a single day behind bars after admitting to being one of the most prolific museum thieves in U.S. history. Thomas Gavin, who spent Tuesday’s court proceedings slumped in a wheelchair and apologizing “for all this trouble,” spent the better part of the ‘60s and ‘70s stealing dozens of historical artifacts from museums up and down the East Coast, often walking away with an incredibly valuable rifle or pistol in broad daylight. Most of the museums he targeted never noticed the absence of their items or had records of the robberies, prosecutors said. Instead, the antique weaponry sat collecting dust in a cluttered barn on Gavin’s property for decades. It is unclear why Gavin embarked on his two-decade-long spree, beyond his lawyer identifying him as “a collector of all manner of old things.”
The FBI finally linked Gavin to one of the thefts last year, after he'd attempted to sell a rifle worth $175,000 and a box of his treasures to a collector in 2018. While being questioned, Gavin volunteered his part in dozens of other heists the agency hadn’t known about. But prosecutors were unable to pin him with anything other than one count of disposal of an object of cultural heritage stolen from a museum, a charge related to the 2018 rifle sale. Judge Mark A. Kearney noted this was because the statutes of limitations on a number of the thefts had expired, while in other cases the stolen objects did not pass the $5,000 threshold for the federal charges he faced. The judge also sentenced Gavin to one year of house arrest, two years of probation, a $25,000 fine, and $23,485 to be paid in restitution.