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Man Admits to Drunkenly Stealing Thumb From Ancient $4.5M Chinese Statue

A Delaware man is expected to plead guilty.

A Delaware man is expected to plead guilty to stealing the thumb off an ancient statue worth $4.5 million after drinking at a Philadelphia museum party.  Michael Rohana, 29, has reportedly accepted a plea bargain that would spare him 30 years of jail time. Read on to find out what happened that fateful night at an ugly Christmas sweater party, how an international incident erupted, and what happened at Rohana's first trial. 

Posed for Selfie, Left With Thumb


In December 2017, during an ugly Christmas sweater party at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Rohana sneaked into a roped-off exhibit and took the thumb off a 2,000-year-old terracotta statue of a Chinese warrior.  Security video captured Rohana posing for a selfie with an arm wrapped around the sculpture known as The Cavalryman, which was insured at $4.5 million. The video appears to show Rohana break something off the statue's left hand and pocket it as he walked away.

Image of Thumb Shared to Snapchat


Museum staff noticed the thumb was missing on Jan. 8, 2018. Using surveillance video and credit card records, the FBI tracked down Rohana at his Delaware home. He immediately confessed and retrieved the thumb from his bedroom desk drawer.  Friends who accompanied him to the party later testified that he talked about taking the finger during the car ride home and shared an image of the digit on Snapchat.

Part of Ancient Army


The statue was one of 10 on loan to the museum. It was part of the Terracotta Army, a collection of 8,000 warriors that date to 209 BCE.  Chinese officials were upset by the vandalism. "We ask that the US severely punish the perpetrator," a cultural official said, according to BBC News.  "We have lodged a serious protest with them." Philadelphia passed an official resolution apologizing for the incident.

What Happened at Trial


Three months later, a federal grand jury indicted Rohana under the federal art theft statute. Rohana was originally tried in April 2019, and he admitted to taking the thumb, calling it a stupid drunken mistake. "Every time I see this video now, I'm trying to figure out: 'What was going through your mind? What were you thinking?' I don't know how I could have been so stupid," he said on the stand.  But his attorneys argued he hadn't been charged under the right law. "These charges were made for art thieves—think like Ocean's Eleven or Mission: Impossible," attorney Catherine C. Henry told jurors. "[Rohana] wasn't in ninja clothing sneaking around the museum. He was a drunk kid in a bright green ugly Christmas sweater." Ultimately, the jury deadlocked on charges, and a mistrial was declared. A retrial was delayed by the COVID pandemic.

Guilty Plea to Lesser Charge Expected


Rohana is expected to plead guilty to a charge of interstate trafficking, which carries a maximum two-year prison sentence and $20,000 fine. In exchange, federal prosecutors dropped the more serious charges of theft and concealment of an object of cultural heritage from a museum, which could have seen Rohana jailed for up to 30 years.

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