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Ex-housekeeper sentenced in Franklin bust theft

A former house cleaner who stole a rare bust of Benjamin Franklin from a Bryn Mawr house where she once worked was sentenced Monday to six years in prison.

A former house cleaner who stole a rare bust of Benjamin Franklin from a Bryn Mawr house where she once worked was sentenced Monday to six years in prison.

U.S. District Judge C. Darnell Jones II also ordered three years of supervised release for Andrea Lawton, 47, of Philadelphia, for taking the 235-year-old bust by the French sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon.

The bust's owner, lawyer George A. D'Angelo, had insured the bust for $735,000, but it was estimated to be worth $3 million. The bust was sculpted in 1778 while Franklin was alive.

The plaster Franklin suffered a crack through its breast plate when Lawton stowed it in luggage on a bus to Maryland to find a buyer. It is in New York being repaired.

Still to be determined is how much restitution Lawton will owe D'Angelo. The restoration's estimated price is about $40,000.

The federal prosecutor and Lawton's attorney said they were satisfied with the sentence.

"It sends a powerful message to people that this kind of crime will be prosecuted," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph J. Khan.

The maximum sentence for Lawton, charged with interstate transportation of stolen property, would have been 10 years in federal detention. Instead, Jones sentenced her to near the minimum.

During sentencing, Jones said Lawton had violated homeowners' trust.

"I think, as the judge put it, it was such a violation of that trust. Those kinds of jobs can't be done unless there's trust on both sides," Khan said.

Lawton's court-appointed lawyer, Martin Isenberg, said: "I think the judge meted out a fair sentence based on all of the circumstances in the case."

He called Lawton "a bright lady" and said he hoped she would take advantage of services in prison and learn to handle the anger that helped fuel her crimes.

Lawton pleaded guilty - in federal court and on separate charges related to the theft in Montgomery County Court - to taking it Aug. 24 from D'Angelo's home.

Authorities recovered the bust nearly a month later when Lawton got off a bus in Elkton, Md., while traveling under an alias. She was there to look for a buyer for the stolen property.

Lawton took the sculpture, investigators said, to make money off its sale and to embarrass the cleaning service's owner, who had just fired her.

She pleaded guilty in December in federal court to taking the bust and did the same in Montgomery County last month.

Isenberg said Lawton could be sentenced this week in the county case. Her maximum sentence there would be 20 years in prison for one count of burglary and one count of criminal conspiracy to commit burglary. Isenberg said he hoped the county sentence could run concurrently with the federal one.

Still missing from the burglary is a shadowbox that contained a photo of the composer Victor Herbert with notes he wrote on its border, and one of his conductor's batons. Those items are estimated to be worth $80,000.

Lawton has maintained that a young man, whom she never has identified, committed the burglary with her and has the Herbert collectibles.