Former Field Museum Worker Gets Prison Time for Stealing

Theft offenses are among the most common crimes that occur in Illinois. Although stealing won’t always result in your imprisonment, it depends on the scale of the theft.

Recently, a former data specialist at the famous Field Museum in Chicago was sentenced to three years in a federal prison for stealing almost $1 million from the museum.

The Chicago Tribune reported Caryn Benson funded a “lavish lifestyle” with the items she stole including jewelry and luxury cars. She even managed to pay rent for a friend’s apartment on the South Side.

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Lawyers acting for Caryn Benson pointed out she had never previously been in trouble with the law. They argued for as little as a year behind bars.

However, federal courts frequently hand down heavy sentences. U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang explained the three-year term by pointing out Benson abused the trust of a not-for-profit museum.

The judge pointed out she stole about $906,000 in membership fees and other proceeds over six years. He said the money could have been used for good causes such as boosting Chicago’s standing. The judge said:

"This is an important Chicago institution. It makes important contributions to the city and to the world, not just through visitors but all the behind-the-scenes scientific and historical research that it performs."

Museum officials pointed out Benson’s acts had an impact on the museum’s reputation. In a victim-impact letter, they said private donations fell off since her arrest. The museum's chief marketing officer said two years ago Benson stole from a museum at a time when it was struggling financially. It had to lay off employees.  

Benson, a 39-year-old woman from Chicago, admitted one count of embezzlement last year.

In a plea agreement, she said she routinely took membership payments between June 2008 and April 2014. She kept money paid by patrons for drink tickets at events at the natural history museum.

Benson said in her plea agreement she took a total of about $400,000. Prosecutors pointed to an internal museum audit. They said the actual amount she took was $906,000. More than $550,000 passed through her checking accounts although her salary during that whole that time totaled only about $140,000, prosecutors alleged.

Prosecutors said she splashed out. She bought a four-carat diamond Joe Rodeo watch valued at $1,500, Gucci shoes and a handbag valued at over $1,400, as well as a gold chain worth 1,500, according to FBI reports.

The seriousness of theft crimes in Illinois depends on the value of good stolen. If you have been charged with a theft crime, please call our Chicago criminal defense lawyers at (312) 229-0008.