Orem man charged with LDS document forgery
Many historical photos from Sanpete destroyed in scam
By Robert Stevens
OREM—While a confessed forger and an apparent thief of books and photographs is facing legal consequences for his actions, a local book and documents dealer who spotted the fakes and warned his colleagues says the case will damage the market for the LDS artifacts for years to come.
Kevin Mark Ronald Schuwer, 29, of Orem, was recently charged with theft and theft by deception, both third-degree felonies, and engaging in a pattern of unlawful activity, a second-degree felony.
Schuwer is accused of stealing eight rare books from Special Collections at the BYU library as well as a rare photograph of Porter Rockwell from the library.
Meanwhile, he faces a suit seeking more than $500,000 in damages for allegedly selling a forged 1849 LDS gold coin and a number of counterfeit books that would be considered very rare if they were authentic.
According to the civil court documents, in which Schuwer confesses to forgery, the fake books included a copy of the Doctrine and Covenants from 1835 purported to have belonged to Emma Smith, an 1835 LDS hymnal, a 1614 King James Bible, and an 1837 Book of Mormon said to have been owned by LDS apostle James E. Talmage.
But those items were the tip of the iceberg, says Ryan Roos, owner of Thunderbird Books and Tilted Tulip Floral in Ephraim, and co-owner of Writ and Vision Rare Books in Provo with his partner, Brad Kramer.
Roos has dealt in rare books and documents for nearly two decades. He studied history, philosophy and religion at Utah State University, during which time he worked in special collections at the Merrill-Cazier Library.
Years ago, Roos gave a lecture in which he warned dealers and collectors of LDS artifacts that a forger as devastating to the LDS artifacts market as the infamous Mark Hoffman would emerge. When Schuwer started trafficking in artifacts, Roos and Kramer were about the only people in the field who didn’t get fooled by his fakes.
“I first encountered Kevin when he came into the Provo store three years ago,” Roos says. “He showed me a number of rare photos and documents. I was immediately struck by his aggressive attitude when it came to what he was selling.
“As a dealer, and someone who has spent his adult life in the field, I’ve learned that the more someone is trying to conceal something, the more overbearing they become. This was my first indication that something was wrong. My second clue was that much of what he was telling me regarding his rare items was simply false.”
After Schuwer tried to sell Roos something Roos himself had once owned, but with a completely falsified provenance (the “paper trail” of a collector’s item), Roos suspected fraud.
Roos warned many of his customers and colleagues that Schuwer was engaged in fraud, but his warnings fell on deaf ears.
“I was largely dismissed, with several dealers who I had known for years turning on me, and thrashing my reputation for questioning the authenticity of Kevin’s offerings,” Roos says. ”Since Kevin was involved with nearly every major dealer and collector in my trade, I experienced a massive loss in business by challenging his practices.
“It’s easier to shoot the messenger, especially when you’re making a fortune or being supplied seemingly priceless materials. Customers who had invested heavily in him almost immediately refused to do business with me. Because I had questioned Kevin’s activities early, he effectively offset those criticisms by convincing a number of high-power collectors and dealers…to blacklist me.”
It was around this time that Roos started to suspect Schuwer was also forging historic photographs. Schuwer peaked Roos’s suspicion when showing what Roos considered an excessive interest in labels adorning historic LDS photos—labels that disclosed the name and often the location of the photographer.
Many of the names and locations came out of Sanpete County. When Roos noticed the red flag, he banned Schuwer from his store. He later found out Schuwer had employed a proxy buyer to continue his inquiries into Roos’s and Kramer’s collection.
It wasn’t long after that Roos began noticing a trend on eBay—a market he admits is a sometimes a “wild west” for collectibles. Someone was buying up historic, but relatively low-value, Sanpete photographs in spades. Roos began to suspect it was Schuwer. Later in a warrant search, police found more than 30,000 valuable, high-resolution historic images saved to Schuwer’s iPad.
From examining Schuwer’s photos, Roos was able to see that he would purchase an historic family photo from a small town, often in Sanpete County, remove the original image, and replace it with one that he had printed himself—one that would appeal to collectors.
Because the card stock on which he’ placed his photograph was real, collectors didn’t suspect a forgery. But when examined closely, a dot matrix appears, which indicates the image was printed.
Roos says his first confirmation of a Schuwer forgery was in 2015. So by all appearances, Schuwer had been at work for several years—maybe more—before he was caught this year.
Left unchecked, Schuwer’s work would have destroyed the market for historic Utah photos, Roos says. “With what we know now about how he would destroy legitimate history to create fake photos, it seems like had he not been caught now, we would have faced a catastrophic situation in regards to historical photos.”
The revelation of Schuwer’s thievery and fakes is already wreaking havoc on the market, Roos says. “I know that collectors, dealers and archives are in a panic. Nobody’s talking because everyone is breathlessly searching their holdings for his fakes—and they keep finding them! Nobody wants to ruin the reputation of their institution by speaking openly right now.
“It’s going to temporarily stun the market,” Roos adds. “Until people know they can again trust that the historic documents they’re buying weren’t printed at the local Costco, the market is frozen.”
Schuwer emphasized Sanpete-based photos in his “collecting” because, while the photos indeed came out of early Mormon times, they were often not as well-cataloged, and that made them easier to forge without detection, Roos says.
“This is a monumental desecration of our past,” Roos says. “The reality is that anyone who sold their family photos to this dealer [Schuwer] based on his promise of preservation likely had their ancestors photos peeled off and thrown away, and more lucrative and freshly printed photos pasted in their place.”
While Schuwer has been caught, and Roos’s warnings have been proven correct, he says he has still not regained the customers who blacklisted him. Roos says he has received one apology from a dealer, but he thinks many are too embarrassed to come forward.
“It’s never easy to say the unpopular thing, but I had enough confidence in my training and myself to know what I was looking at,” he says. “I likely lost tens of thousands of dollars by not dealing with Kevin and his frauds. And honestly, it was worth every penny. Our family has chosen to lay down our roots in Sanpete, and for a stranger to come in and abuse not only my profession but my people is something I take very personally.”