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A law student in his second year of the three-year program at Ohio State University is believed to have stolen books from the school.
Not just any books; they were law books. Campus police say he took more than 200, one at a time, from the university law library and sold them online for more than $10,000.
OSU police searched the student's apartment last week. The Dispatch is not naming the student because he has not been charged. Police say they will seek an indictment soon.
Officers had been tracking the thefts since the beginning of August, when the university got an e-mail from a Brazilian lawyer. She said that she had bought a volume online from the "Orion Bookstore" site on Amazon.com and found a crossed-out OSU ink stamp on its inside front cover, according to court documents.
A quick check confirmed that the title had vanished from the shelves. An investigation led police to the student, who had 1,351 more library books listed for sale.
"I haven't seen anything like this before," said OSU police detective Pete Dragonette, who is leading the investigation.
Book thieves usually go after antique volumes, not common titles, said Scott Seaman, dean of Ohio University's library. An OSU library official said he couldn't comment because the investigation is continuing.
In 1996, a retired OSU art-history professor was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison for stealing 14th-century documents and other rare manuscripts from the Vatican Library over 30 years. Kenyon College's library was a target about 10 years ago, when a night librarian and his girlfriend stole more than 200 books and papers dating back centuries and sold them on eBay for thousands of dollars.
New technology, with improved alarms and digital ID tags, helps security, but thefts can be difficult to prevent in collections of several million volumes typical at universities, Seaman said.
It's more difficult to prove the source of a common book, which can be bought at many regular bookstores. At Ohio State, police used a sting operation, marked merchandise and a hidden camera.
They found that one of the books listed for sale on the website was still in the law library. They marked an inside page with invisible ink that shows up under ultraviolet light and hid a camera in a nearby wall clock, according to court documents.
Then, one of the investigators had a relative out of state buy the book. The video shows a man they believe to be the student taking the marked book from the shelf. It later turned up at the buyer's address - complete with the mark.
However, the toughest part is determining that a book is gone, librarians said. As in the OSU case, Kenyon didn't notice the theft until a collector called to report that a particularly rare volume was for sale.
"Conscientious buyers are the best friends we have when catching stolen books," said Joseph Murphy, director of information services at Kenyon's library.