SEATTLE: A Romanian national has admitted trying to sell a stolen bookmark that reportedly was given to Adolf Hitler by his mistress after the Nazis lost a key battle in World War II.
Christian Popescu, 37, who immigrated to the United States about 12 years ago from Constanta, Romania, pleaded guilty Thursday in U.S. District Court to the sale or receipt of stolen goods.
The 18-carat gold bookmark, engraved with a portrait of Hitler, an imperial eagle and a swastika, was forfeited to the U.S. government.
Police in Spain said three men took it and some jewelry from a glass display case at the auction house Duran Subastas de Arte in Madrid during working hours on Oct. 16, 2002.
Reportedly given to Hitler by Eva Braun after the Nazis surrendered at Stalingrad, the turning point in their invasion of the Soviet Union, the bookmark is inscribed, "My Adolf, don't worry ... (the loss) was only an inconvenience that will not break your certainty of victory. My love for you will be eternal, as our Reich will be eternal. Always yours, Eva. 3-2-43."
Some antiques experts have questioned its authenticity, but federal agents said the theft made it illegal for Popescu to arrange to sell the bookmark Nov. 25 to an undercover agent for $100,000 outside a Starbucks store in suburban Bellevue.
According to documents filed in court, an informant told authorities Popescu had been trying to sell the bookmark in the Seattle area for $150,000. The informant helped to arrange the sale for the lower amount, investigators wrote.
Popescu told the undercover agent a necklace stolen at the same time had been melted down but that the bookmark was more valuable intact.
The auction house paid the owner of the bookmark described by a spokesman for the business only as a Brazilian about $10,000 after the heist, and an insurance company subsequently reimbursed the auction house. According to court documents, Spanish authorities estimate its value at $13,000 to $17,000.
Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney's office, said Thursday it was unclear where the bookmark will be sent after Popescu is sentenced on June 12. He faces as much as 10 years in prison.