Antonio DeHays, 32, admitted that the dog tags were part of the reason he had been reviewing files of pilots who crashed in Europe during the war at a National Archives facility in Maryland
"The theft of our history should anger any citizen, but as a veteran I am shocked at allegations that a historian would show such disregard for records and artifacts documenting those captured or killed in World War II," US Archivist David Ferriero said in a statement Tuesday.
"Although we have increased our security measures in recent years, this case highlights the constant threat our records and artifacts face and why the security of the holdings of the National Archives is my highest priority," he said.
DeHays could face up to a decade in prison if convicted, a punishment that is not without precedent, the Washington Post reported. In 2005, 68-year-old Howard W. Harner Jr. of Virginia was sentenced to two years behind bars for stealing Civil War-era documents from the National Archives, including letters from Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis.
According to investigators, DeHays’ theft dates back to 2015, though the tags weren’t discovered missing until this year. His first target was a downed US pilot named Henry W. Davis.
The federal criminal complaint against DeHays states that Special Agent David Berry of the Office of Inspector General came across a French-language article that featured a photograph of DeHays and Davis’ dog tag, which the article said came from a private collection.
DeHays also took the rare brass dog tag of Leonard R. Willette, a member of the historic Tuskegee Airmen, according to investigators.
On May 12, DeHays asked to see box 352 at the National Archives facility, leaving after only 24 minutes. A staff member discovered 30 dog tags missing from the box two weeks later.
After executing a search warrant at DeHays’ home in College Park, Maryland, law enforcement found six dog tags and other archive documents. They say DeHays admitted to selling the tags on eBay for "private financial gain."