Man fingered in Philadelphia theft of thumb from terracotta warrior will plead guilty


Michael Rohana of Bear, Delaware—who allegedly broke the thumb off of an ancient Chinese terracotta warrior sculpture on display at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute—has accepted a plea deal for his drunken escapades at the institution’s ugly sweater holiday party in 2017. Rohana will plead guilty to a lesser charge in order to escape potential decades behind bars, PhillyVoice reported.

Rohana is scheduled to plead guilty to interstate trafficking on 17 April, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison and a $20,000 fine. The initial charges threatened a potential 30-year prison sentence for theft and concealment of a cultural heritage object. Rohana’s first trial ended in a mistrial in 2019 and the second was delayed due to Covid-19 protocols.

According to the court, Rohana, then 24, attended an after-hours party at the Franklin Institute on 21 December 2017, during which he wandered the institution’s galleries and slipped past a rope blocking off the exhibition Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor, which featured ten life-size statues of warriors once buried in the tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, discovered in northwest China in the 1970s.

Video footage showed Rohana taking a selfie with a 2,000-year-old statue depicting a cavalryman, then breaking off its thumb and placing it in his pocket. Museum workers didn’t notice that the thumb was gone until 8 January 2018—a review of the surveillance equipment and ticket receiepts from the night of the party pointed to Rohana’s involvement.

The ten sculptures in the exhibition, on loan from the Chinese government, were valued in the range of $4.5m. The thumb of the cavalryman figure was said to be worth $5,000 alone. After FBI special agent Jacob B. Archer arrived at Rohana’s door in February of 2018, the suspect confessed immediately and returned the pilfered digit, which he had been stowing in his bedroom desk drawer.

Chinese authorities did not take kindly to the phalange felon, prompting the city of Philadelphia to pass a an official resolution apologising for the infraction.

Rohana admitted to making a drunken mistake during his 2019 appearance in court, stating, “I don’t know how I could have been so stupid.” His lawyers argued that the charges he faced were designed to counter pre-meditated, major theft, not “youthful vandalism”.

“These charges were made for art thieves,” lawyer Catherine C. Henry said in her closing statements. “He was a drunk kid in a bright green ugly Christmas sweater.”


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