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D.C. Gigs: Investigator Seeks Priceless Artifacts

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Kelly Maltagliani has been a criminal investigator at the National Archives for the past 9 years. She says she loves her job because she feels like she "makes a difference."
Marc Adams
Kelly Maltagliani has been a criminal investigator at the National Archives for the past 9 years. She says she loves her job because she feels like she "makes a difference."

It's CSI meets Antique Road Show. While hundreds of dealers and collectors of historical artifacts descend on Gettysburg, Penn. to show off their prized possessions, Kelly Maltagliati is scouring the crowd like a hawk, on the hunt for long lost documents.

"We always hope that we'll find some of our stolen documents when we go out to look for them at these shows," Maltagliati says. "[However], we do not find them at these shows."

It is a Saturday afternoon at the 38th annual Gettysburg Civil War Collectors Show, and on display is everything from civil war era rifles, swords and military uniforms to 19th century photographs and personal letters. The exhibit hall is swarming with people, both prospective buyers and the curious alike.

Maltagliati glides through the streams of humanity looking for familiar faces. She has traveled 2 hours north from Washington, D.C. to investigate document theft for the National Archives.

It's all part of her work as a criminal investigator under the Office of Inspector General. Based at the National Archives, Maltagliati is charged with finding all stolen documents and those long lost artifacts that may belong to the government. The first step is figuring out what to look for, which of itself is no easy task.

"We don't know how often and how much is stolen from the National Archives, and we'll probably never know that," Maltagliati says. "The National Archives does not have a complete inventory of everything. We often find out what is missing by what is out on the streets."

She says she relies on an ever expanding network of collectors, dealers and researchers to alert her to items they see on the market that belong to the Archives.

"We do develop a lot of relationships here," Maltagliani explains. "When we first started coming, they were very leery of us coming to look at their documents. I've been coming to these shows and other members of the team have been coming for about six years now and we've developed a lot of good relationships to the point where some of the dealers will call us before they purchase a document to make sure it's not stolen from the archives."

She says most people want nothing to do with stolen items. They simply become a financial liability once their true status is uncovered. Some collectors find themselves unknowingly in possession of a stolen item from generations past and are soon forced to surrender it, in essence sacrificing whatever money was paid to acquire it (sometimes in the tens of thousands of dollars).

If Maltagliati gets lucky and actually finds the person suspected of stealing documents, she is in charge of seizing the documents, apprehending the person, and pushing for full judicial prosecution. Already, several people have done jail time under her watch.

"Often people steal from us because they like the documents that they're taking," she says. "They get pleasure from having them in their collection and feel like they can do them more justice than sitting in a box at the National Archives."

She continues, "Often they find themselves in financial difficulty and they have to sell the document, and that's when it comes to light and we find out about it."

At the moment, the search is on for the Wright Brothers flying patent, target maps of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and a page from Eli Whitney's patent of the cotton gin. That's just some of the extensive list of missing items.

"You can see I'm here on the weekends, so it does take up my hours, but that's what I signed onto," she says. Being a criminal investigator, you don't work traditional hours. We do what we need to do to interact with the public and the community to get these cases solved."

After nine years at the National Archives and a full career as a criminal investigator, Maltagliati could retire but she chooses not to. She loves her job too much for that.

"At the end of the day you feel really good about what you do, and you feel like you make a difference."

[Music: "Working for the Weekend" by The Brown Derbies from We Deliver / "Beer Truck Rag" by Devil in a Woodpile from In Your Lonesome Town]

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