CHERRY HILL, N.J. — Federal authorities say a guest at a Philadelphia museum’s Ugly Sweater Party in December slipped into a closed exhibit and snipped off part of a sculpture.
More precisely, the intruder took a thumb — from a $4.5 million terracotta warrior that’s part of an acclaimed exhibit on loan from China at the Franklin Institute.
He also took a selfie.
The thumb came from the life-size clay soldier known as the Cavalryman.
The soldier was part of a “Terrracotta Army” that provided after-life security at the burial complex of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi. The statues, which date from around 209 B.C., are on display at the museum through March 4.
Adding to the ignominy: The Cavalryman wasn’t the victim of a daring burglar who rappelled down from a skylight.
Instead, a young man in a long-sleeved green sweater and a Philadelphia Phillies cap simply walked into the darkened exhibit during a Dec. 21 “Science After Hours” party, said an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Jacob Archer.
A surveillance video shows the guest alone with “a priceless part of China’s cultural heritage,” reported Archer, a member of the FBI’s Art Crime Team, who once pursued drug dealers and other criminals in South Jersey.
The exhibit contains 10 statues, including a general, a charioteer and a saddled horse.
Gold ornaments, jade pieces and coins are among more than 170 accompanying artifacts.
The security system, on the other hand, was not impressive.
A door to the exhibit was closed, but apparently unlocked. Beyond that, the intruder had to figure out how to get past a black rope hung between stanchions.
in a statement Wednesday night, the Franklin Institute said "standard closing procedures were not followed" by a security contractor on the night of the party.
"As a result of this incident, we have thoroughly reviewed our security protocol and procedures and have taken appropriate action where needed," the institution said.
The facility also said it has "multiple levels of security in place to ensure the safety of our artifacts" and noted an internal investigation gave the FBI "the information necessary to identify the suspect."
Archer’s affidavit, filed Friday in federal court in Philadelphia, says the alleged intruder — Michael Rohana of Bear, Del. — entered the room briefly, then apparently invited two friends at the party for a private tour.
Surveillance video shows the trio entered the exhibit at 9:15 p.m., with Rohana’s friends leaving quickly. But Rohana allegedly lingered for a few minutes, using his cellphone as a flashlight to look at the figures.
At one point, he stepped onto a platform holding a warrior, “placed his arm around that sculpture and took a photograph of himself with the sculpture,” Archer said.
And just before he left the room, Rohana “appeared to break something off the Cavalryman’s left hand and put it in his left pocket,” said the agent.
A museum staffer noted the digit’s disappearance Jan. 8, bringing Archer to the tourist attraction on the Ben Franklin Parkway.
Surveillance video and credit-card information established that Rohana had attended the party with five friends from Delaware.
One of the friends said she heard Rohana discussing the thumb on the ride home, according to the affidavit, part of a criminal complaint charging him with theft of major artwork from a museum and other offenses.
Another friend said Rohana posted a photo of “a finger” from a terracotta warrior on his Snapchat account one day after the party.
When Archer interviewed Rohana at his family's home Jan. 13, he asked Rohana "if he had anything in his possession that he wanted to turn over to the FBI."
Rohana led the agent to his bedroom “and retrieved the stolen thumb from the top right drawer of a desk,” the account said.
Archer returned the thumb to the museum, which is now preparing for the next party in its monthly after-hours series.
The theme of that Feb. 27 event is “Love and Lust.”
Follow Jim Walsh on Twitter: @jimwalsh_cp