|DOYLESTOWN, Pa. – Convicted one-time Antiques Roadshow appraiser Russell Pritchard III will once again appear in court, charged with 144 counts of theft by Bucks County authorities.
The 44-year-old Pritchard is accused of accepting at least $40,000 in antiques from a Doylestown woman with a promise to auction them. He entered a plea of not guilty Dec. 28 in the Court of Common Pleas of Bucks County, which set his trial date for Jan. 30. He was not represented by an attorney at his arraignment.
“She has never seen a penny from that,” said David Zellis, Bucks County’s first assistant district attorney. She gave Pritchard the antiques in 2005. “We at least want full restitution for what he has taken,” Zellis said. “That’s what we’re asking, at the very least. He needs to be held accountable.”
Meanwhile, in adjacent Montgomery County officials there are asking for jail time for Pritchard. He pleaded guilty on Aug. 28 to three felonies for stealing more than $100,000 from six individuals who hired him to sell their antiques.
In that case, Pritchard could get up to 24 years in prison.
He is expected to be sentenced in Montgomery County within the next four to six weeks. The prosecution is asking the judge to put Pritchard behind bars, says Assistant District Attorney Tracey L. Potere.
“We are asking for jail time,” Potere said. “This was a calculated crime on Mr. Pritchard’s part. It was not a mistake. Due to the amount of money he stole and the time period in which it happened, it was not a momentary lapse in judgment. This was a well thought out, calculated decision by the defendant to steal.”
Potere said Pritchard offered an “open guilty” plea and that it was not part of a plea agreement for a lighter sentence.
Pritchard could not be reached for comment. The telephone at his Beach Haven, N.J., residence has been disconnected.
Both cases involve Pritchard’s ownership of the Bryn Mawr Auction Co., where he took possession of furniture, paintings, silverware and china which, police said, were never sold. When several of the owners of the antiques complained to authorities, they discovered his store was vacated. Most of the consignments took place between June 2004 and July 2006.
If Pritchard is found guilty in the Montgomery County case, the former rising star of the Antique Roadshow could be onto tough times. In sentencing procedures, the State of Pennsylvania takes into account any former criminal convictions.
Pritchard, in a notorious Antique Roadshow scheme, has already been convicted of federal crimes.
In July 2002, he was sentenced to one year in prison on federal charges that he staged phony appraisals and defrauding Civil War militaria collectors. He was also ordered to repay $830,000 in restitution.
Prior to his sentencing in federal court, Pritchard had pleaded guilty to making false television appraisals, in addition to admitting that he defrauded artifact owners by giving them low appraisals on items, then reselling them at much higher prices and keeping the profits for himself.
On a national level, Pritchard is probably best known for his key role in the appraisal of the “Watermelon Sword.”
Pritchard, and an accomplice, George Juno, were both popular appraisers on the Antiques Roadshow when, in July 1996, they met with a man named “Steve” to rehearse a story about a Confederate Civil War sword which they supplied him, according to FBI documents. Later that month, the three men staged the phony Antiques Roadshow session for a later broadcast. During the showing, “Steve” recounted that the sword had been in his family for years and that, as a child, he used it to cut a watermelon. While the cameras rolled, he acted surprised when Pritchard and Juno appraised the “Watermelon Sword” at $35,000.
Shortly after the “Watermelon Sword” segment aired, descendants of Major Samuel J. Wilson, a Union officer in the Civil War, contacted Pritchard, asking him to appraise the sword once used by their ancestor. Pritchard and Juno put a value of nearly $8,000 on the sword and persuaded the family to sell them the sword which they intimated they were going to donate to a museum.
Instead of giving the Wilson sword to a museum, Juno used it as collateral to secure a loan. Then he helped a family member sell the Wilson sword to a private collector for $20,000 – two and a half times the value at which he and Pritchard appraised it.
Pritchard has been banned from ever appearing again on the Antiques Roadshow.
Eric C. Rodenberg