Man pleads guilty to breaking off thumb of terracotta warrior worth $4.5 million

Man pleads guilty to breaking off thumb of terracotta warrior worth $4.5 million
via Gary Todd (representational only)
Bryan Ke
April 18, 2023
The Delaware man who broke the thumb off a priceless terracotta warrior statue lent to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia by China in December 2017 has pleaded guilty to a federal misdemeanor charge.
Michael Rohana, 29, of Bear, Delaware, pleaded guilty to one count of trafficking in archaeological resources in a Pennsylvania court on Monday. The misdemeanor charge could earn Rohana one year in jail when he’s sentenced on Aug. 17.
Rohana’s Monday charge was reportedly closer to what his attorney had previously argued for and carried much fewer penalties than his initial charge.
Rohana was first charged with the theft and concealment of an object of cultural heritage from a museum and interstate transportation of stolen property, which carried a total maximum penalty of 30 years in prison when he was arrested in 2018.
Prosecutors then charged Rohana under the federal art theft statute at his trial the following year. An individual can be charged under the law if the item stolen meets the threshold of being either at least 100 years old and worth more than $5,000 or worth at least $100,000.
Under this law, Rohana could have faced a maximum prison sentence of 10 years and a fine.
His attorneys, public defenders Catherine C. Henry and Nancy MacEoin, argued that the statute is only applicable for art thieves, as Rohana’s case was the first time the law was applied to a person whose motive was to vandalize, not for financial gain.
These charges were made for art thieves — think like ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ or ‘Mission: Impossible,’” Henry said during her closing argument in the 2019 trial, adding that the man “wasn’t in ninja clothing sneaking around the museum. He was a drunk kid in a bright green ugly Christmas sweater.”
Another factor that lessened Rohana’s sentence was the actual value of the terracotta warrior’s thumb.
Jurors were left confused after art appraisers disagreed over the thumb’s value, as the prosecution argued the thumb was worth more than $150,000.
Meanwhile, the defense said it should be lower than the federal art theft law threshold, explaining that the terracotta warrior statue, known as The Cavalryman, was initially found in pieces and assembled by archeologists for display, making the recent damage insignificant.
As part of the plea deal with prosecutors, Rohana’s defense team and the prosecutors agreed to set the value of the finger at $500.
Rohana was caught in the act by a security camera at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia while attending an “ugly sweater party” in December 2017.
Investigators learned through the footage that Rohana, who was 24 at that time, sneaked inside a closed-off section of the museum during a drunken excursion. The security camera caught him taking selfies with the terracotta warrior statue worth around $4.5 million.
The drunken trip ended with Rohana breaking the thumb off the ancient statue, believed to be around 2,000 years old, and taking it back to his parents’ home, where he still lives.
The incident ignited outrage in China, with Chinese officials demanding the man face “severe punishment” for the crime.
The incident also prompted the City Council of Philadelphia to apologize for what happened.
The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia was one of the only two museums in the U.S. that China chose to host the traveling exhibit for the terracotta warriors statue found in the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, in Xi’an, Shaanxi province, in 1974. The other exhibit in 2017 was at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.

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