Bottom: The Bill of Rights, as seen after the 2003 FBI sting.
Bill of Rights Returns Home
The Sting (continued)
On March 18, 2003, John L. Richardson arrived at the law offices of Dilworth Paxson, LLP, on
Market Street in Philadelphia. In the firm's conference room on the thirty-second floor, he met
attorney Harmelin, purportedly representing the National Constitution Center, to transact the sale
of the copy of the Bill of Rights belonging to Pratt. Seth Kaller was also present to certify the
authenticity of the manuscript. Richardson was shown a check for $4 million; he confirmed by phone
the transfer of the funds to his bank account. Assured that the money was in hand, he called a
courier in the lobby of the building to bring up the document. The courier brought in the same
cardboard art box that Charlene Bickford had seen three years before. The manuscript was removed
from the box and placed on the conference table. After Kaller pronounced the document to be a
genuine original copy of the Bill of Rights, Harmelin left the room, supposedly to bring in Torsella,
as agent for the center. Instead, five FBI agents took custody of the document, which Richardson
had already tendered. The agents also served a civil seizure warrant signed by Judge Boyle (who
later concluded that the Bill of Rights had already been voluntarily transferred before service
of the warrant).
As the State prepared its brief for the civil suit against all other claimants, prosecutors
requested further evidence that would tie the recovered Bill of Rights irrefutably to North
Carolina. George Stevenson Jr., private manuscripts archivist at the State Archives of North Carolina and an acknowledged expert on eighteenth-century paper and handwriting, was summoned to
the U.S. Marshal's Office in Raleigh to examine the document. Drawing upon his extensive knowledge
of the records in the archives, Stevenson compared the handwriting of the endorsement on the back
of the Bill of Rights with that on the reverse of the October 2, 1789, letter of transmittal from
President George Washington to North Carolina governor Samuel Johnston. He also compared the
endorsement on the back of North Carolina's original copy of the eleventh amendment to the U.S.
Constitution, received in 1795. He determined that all three notations were in the same hand.
From previous research, Stevenson knew that Pleasant Henderson of Granville County had served as
one of the engrossing clerks in the 1789 assembly, and as assistant clerk to the House of Commons
in 1795. He compared numerous samples of Henderson's handwriting with the endorsements on the Bill
of Rights, the letter of transmittal, and the 1795 amendment. He concluded that all three were by
the hand of Pleasant Henderson and attested to such in an affidavit filed in federal court on
August 8, 2003.