Author accused of stealing and selling historic Montana artifacts

montana historical society documents.jpeg
Posted at 11:24 AM, Jan 22, 2024

HELENA — Brian D’Ambrosio, the author of several books about Montana history, is accused of stealing and selling artifacts from the Montana Historical Society.

D’Ambrosio, 49 years old, has been indicted on 10 counts, including theft of major artwork, interstate transportation of stolen property, and wire fraud.

D’Ambrosio’s works include books looking at the life of Montana boxer Marvin Camel, a history of cinema in Montana, and a book chronicling National Football League players and coaches from Montana. His book about Camel was a High Plains Award finalist.

According to court documents, between April 2022 and September 2023, D’Ambrosio went to the Montana Historical Society in Helena claiming to do research. He is accused of taking items from the archives and later putting them up for sale on eBay.

A news release from the U.S. Attorney's Office in Great Falls alleges that from about April 2022 to September 2023, D’Ambrosio "stole objects of cultural heritage that were more than 100 years old and worth more than $5,000 from the Montana Historical Society. D’Ambrosio, while claiming to conduct research at the Montana Historical Society, stole items of significant historic value. D’Ambrosio fraudulently induced buyers to purchase the items by omitting that he had stolen them from the Montana Historical Society, making it appear as if he had authority to sell and transfer the items to others when he did not."

Click here to read the charging documents (PDF).

Items that D’Ambrosio is alleged to have stolen include letters written by Charlie Russell’s wife Nancy Russell, an 1889 Montana Constitution Convention flag and program, an early 1900s Ravalli County Sheriff’s card, and a 1905 letter from Centennial Brewing located in Butte.

The FBI used an undercover agent to contact D’Ambrosio seeking to purchase some of the alleged stolen items.

D’Ambrosio was arraigned on January 16, 2024, in U.S. District Court for the District of Montana and entered a plea of not guilty. He was released pending further proceedings.

If convicted of the most serious crime, D’Ambrosio faces up to 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.