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Woman pleads guilty in Ben Franklin bust case

Wednesday - 12/19/2012, 11:05am  ET

By PATRICK WALTERS
Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA - A housekeeper pleaded guilty to a federal charge Tuesday in the case of a valuable bust of Benjamin Franklin taken from a home in a wealthy Philadelphia suburb.

Andrea Lawton, 46, of Mobile, Ala., pleaded guilty to interstate transportation of stolen property for allegedly fleeing with the bust to Alabama in August. Prosecutors allege she had made plans to sell it.

A second charge against her was dismissed as part of a plea agreement with federal prosecutors. She faces a maximum of up to 10 years in prison; sentencing is scheduled for March. There is also a separate state case in the matter.

"It's a very sad situation," said defense attorney Martin Isenberg, who is representing her in the federal case. "She's sorry for what she did. ... She made a mistake."

Police allege Lawton stole the bust from the home in Bryn Mawr because she had been fired. She allegedly told police she had been told the bust was valuable and wanted to get her boss fired. According to investigators, Lawton said she waited in her car while the accomplice, whom she has refused to identify, and broke into a lawyer's home by kicking out an air conditioner on Aug. 24.

Lawton allegedly fled with the bust to a relative's home in Alabama before being arrested Sept. 21 as she got off a Greyhound bus in Elkton, Md. Federal agents then recovered the bust.

According to police, part of its journey included an overnight stay wrapped in a sheet inside a trash bin in West Philadelphia. The bust was cracked and will need restoration. While some have placed its value at around $3 million, Isenberg said there is dispute over how much it is worth and that the issue will go before the court.

In the state case, Lawton was ordered in September to stand trial on burglary, theft and other charges. Isenberg, who is not representing her in that matter, said the federal plea agreement contains "no admission regarding a burglary that took place."


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)