Edward Renehan: An author's life careens from scholarly pursuits to thefts





A brain disorder drove historian Edward Renehan Jr. to record an album with folk legend Pete Seeger, work with New York publishers and write six books, including one on the Kennedys, the author says.
But that same illness ---- diagnosed last year as bipolar disorder ---- may have pushed Renehan to steal and sell rare letters written by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, a federal crime that could send him to jail or force him to pay up to $250,000 in fines.

In federal court in Manhattan last week, Renehan admitted to stealing the letters from a New York vault. He sold the letters through Swann Galleries for $97,000. Prosecutors said he stole them from the Theodore Roosevelt Association in Oyster Bay on Long Island between January 2006 and October 2007.
"When I look back at what a madman I was … I'm stunned at what I did," said the 51-year-old author, who works in a book-crowded basement in his ranch house in North Kingstown. "The manic [bi-polar] behavior is your enemy, but it's also who you are.".

Renehan was the acting director of the association when he stole one letter handwritten by President Lincoln on March 1, 1840, and two letters by President Washington, one written on Aug. 9, 1791, and another on Dec. 29, 1778, said New York U.S. Attorney Michael J. Garcia.

The critically acclaimed biographer faces a fine and up to 30 months under federal sentencing guidelines, said his lawyer, Peter Brill. He will also have to pay restitution. Sentencing is set for Aug. 21.

Brill yesterday said he will seek leniency.

Renehan's condition, combined with family issues and other stresses , clouded his judgment, he said. The author has no prior record.

"We don't really think jail is appropriate under the circumstances," said Brill. "This was a single aberrant act in an otherwise honorable life." Renehan apologized during his plea and told his family, friends and colleagues he was sorry....

Renehan, a freelance book reviewer, has written pieces for The Providence Journal, including a recent review of Manic: A Memoir, a look at bipolar disorder by Terri Cheney, a Beverly Hills entertainment lawyer."For someone who was wrestled with the same demons, Cheney's book reeks with scary deja vu," Renehan wrote in February."It's all here: The sudden, unexpected, rapid-cycling flights into sadness, fits of rage, or mad schemes."

As a result of his new medication, Renehan said he no longer writes with the same confidence and bravado he once did.

"I'm more reflective now," he said,"which may be a good thing."


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