In the latest instance of a politician using public funds to make questionable purchases, the former mayor of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Stephen Reed, is facing up to nine months in prison after he pleaded guilty to stealing thousands of dollars worth of Wild West artifacts he bought while in office.
Reed, 67, who was mayor of Harrisburg for nearly 30 years, hoped to boost tourism to his city of 50,000 by opening a museum focusing on the Wild West. To outfit this planned museum, Reed spent upwards of $8 million on some 10,000 items from auction houses and antique shops around the country, according to The Washington Post. Artifacts included a Billy the Kid poster for $1,000, four stagecoach harnesses for $10,000, and a Ford’s Theater playbill from the night of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination for $14,900.
Though he spent $8.3 million collecting those items and more, Reed’s museum never came to fruition. He was voted out of his mayoral post in 2009, and he took with him some of the antiques he had collected during his years in office.
In 2015, Reed was indicted on hundreds of charges related to the collection, which prosecutors alleged he kept at the city’s expense. Investigators visited his home at the time and removed many of the artifacts, including saddles, a totem pole and a wolf statue, according to PennLive.
Before jury selection for his trial could begin this week, Reed ended up pleading guilty to 20 counts of receiving stolen property that amounted to $19,000. He is now facing up to nine months in prison in his sentencing, which is set for Friday, according to PennLive.
Reed’s attorney, Henry Hockeimer Jr., told the AP that his client admitted to the charges because he’s currently battling prostate cancer and would like to move on and focus on getting treated for the disease.
In a separate statement, Reed claimed he took some of the artifacts with him by accident when he left office.
“How they got into some box when moving out of office seven years ago, I don’t know,” Reed said of the items, according to the AP. “My guess is they were thrown in with a bunch of similar things in the haste of getting everything packed.”
Reed’s obsession with Wild West memorabilia was common knowledge, according to PennLive. He’d regularly take trips out West and visit antique dealers. Some of the items he bought turned out to be inauthentic. In the 1990s, Reed drafted a proposal to build multiple museums in Harrisburg, but only one, a Civil War Museum, was ever built.