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Govermnent seek forfeiture of “One Ancient Mosaic”

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ancient mosaic depicting Hercules

 
LOS ANGELES – The United States in May filed an asset forfeiture complaint against an ancient mosaic depicting Hercules, believed to have been made in the 3rd or 4th Century, that likely was looted from war-torn Syria, allegedly illegally imported into the United States, and seized by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security Investigations at a Palmdale residence.

The mosaic, which is approximately 18 feet long and weighs approximately one ton, was seized by FBI and HSI special agents in March 2016 as part of an investigation into the smuggling of looted items believed to be from a foreign conflict area into the United States.

The complaint, which was filed in United States District court under the caption United States v. One Ancient Mosiac, alleges that a Palmdale man smuggled the antiquity into the United States with false and fraudulent documents with the intent to avoid import duties.

The complaint alleges that Mohamad Yassin Alcharihi further violated federal law by concealing the mosaic at his residence.

 After the mosaic was seized, an expert retained by the government concluded that that the artwork “was an authentic mosaic from the Byzantine Period depicting Roman mythology, and was consistent with the iconography of mosaics found in Syria, in particular in and around the city of Idlib, Syria.” The complaint alleges that the mosaic was imported into the United States with paperwork indicating that it was part of a shipment of vases and mosaics worth only about $2,200, but Alcharihi later admitted paying $12,000 for the items. Preliminary estimated values for the mosaic at issue in this case are much higher, according to the complaint..

The United States has adopted import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological material from Syria, according to the complaint, which quotes a statement from U.S. Customs and Border Protection stating: “[f]or decades, the United States has shared the international concern for the need to protect endangered cultural property. 

The appearance in the United States of stolen or illegally exported artifacts from other countries where there has been pillage has, on occasion, strained our foreign and cultural relations. This situation, combined with the concerns of museum, archaeological, and scholarly communities, was recognized by the President and Congress.

Kentucky man sentenced for raiding Native American graves

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  Louisville, Ky. – U.S. District Court judge sentenced Gary Womack, 60, of Woodburn, Kentucky, to 15 months in prison for three felony violations of the federal Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) on June 6, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.
The case resulted from a three-year undercover investigation by the National Park Service, based upon allegations that Womack possessed human remains which originated from Mammoth Cave National Park. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) assisted Park Service agents throughout.
The undercover investigation revealed Womack’s dealings in artifacts removed from the graves of Native Americans buried in caves and rock shelters in South Central Kentucky and also burials from as far away as the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Womack dealt in artifacts from the so-called “G.E. Mound” case prosecuted in the Southern District of Indiana in 1992. 
Artifacts recovered from that case were supposed to have been returned and re-buried at a site in Posey County, Indiana; however, Womack purchased artifacts from the previous prosecution in 2015 in Boonville, Indiana, for approximately $2,500, and transported them to Kentucky, where a portion of them were sold to the undercover federal agent. Womack also pled guilty to two additional counts charging him with trafficking in archaeological resources (Native American artifacts) from the Western United States. All artifacts in the case have been recovered and will be repatriated according to law.
In sentencing, the judge told Womack that he was disturbed that the defendant had chosen to dig the graves of the ancestors of Native Americans for profit and had done so while being fully aware of the laws he had chosen to violate.

A letter from Ben Barnes, Second Chief of the Shawnee Tribe, of Miami, Oklahoma, was made a part of the record and read at the sentencing hearing. The letter states, in part: “The remains that are within the soils of our original homelands contains the hallowed remains of human beings, our ancestors. We would urge the court to send a message to all those what would desecrate a grave, that ARPA violators will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

Bodies of missing hikers found in Alaska

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Copper Center, Alaska – National Park Service rangers recovered the bodies of two hikers who were swept away by a glacial river in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park on July 2. According to a Park Service release, identification by NPS law enforcement matches that of two backpackers that were last seen on June 22 when they were dropped off by an air taxi operator at the Sanford Glacier airstrip less than two miles from where the bodies were found.

The backpackers were identified as 62-year old Rochelle Renken and 62-year old Michael Huffman, both from Columbia, Missouri. The couple were experienced backpackers and Renken has been to Alaska several times in the past and had previous experience crossing Alaskan rivers. Positive identification is pending from the State Medical Examiner. The deaths appear to be accidental. No foul play is suspected.

After the hikers failed to make their airstrip pick-up at the Dadina River on June 27 and missed two pre-planned satellite phone calls with the air taxi service, the service notified the NPS. The NPS initiated an intensive aerial and ground search for the couple on June 27. By June 28 there were 27 people and five aircraft involved in the search for the missing couple. Late last week, search crews found footprints along the Sanford River where it emerges from the Sanford Glacier. The footprints were indicative of two people preparing for a river crossing.

Over the weekend search crews found two backpacks and other backpacking gear strewn along a seven mile stretch of the Sanford River downriver from the Sanford Glacier and the location of the footprints. Water levels in the Sanford River receded on Friday and Saturday leaving items stranded in dry channels along the river. Based on the evidence that was found by searchers, it appears that the couple attempted to cross the Sanford River near the toe of the glacier and were swept away by the powerful, glacial river.

The NPS reminds backpackers that river crossings are always dangerous and that rivers and streams that are sometimes passable become impassable, even for experts, after rain events or on sunny days with rapid glacial melt.

Drive down Pike’s Peak

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The view from 14,000 feet. (c) 2018 J.S.Reinitz

For me, mountain driving is a combination of nerve-racking terror and pure wonder and inspiration. Part of me wants to stare out over the endless view of the countryside, while the other part is white-knuckle gripping the steering wheel, sweating over the possibility of missing a turn and plummeting endlessly down into that same countryside.

Fortunately, my wife and kids sprung for a dashcam a year ago, so I could pay attention to the road while driving and admire the scenery after surviving.

Below is a video of our descent down Pike’s Peak, the drive-up 14,000 foot mountain just west of Colorado Springs. This year, the operators of the peak highway offered a shuttle ride for the last few miles of the road to ease congestion at the top during a construction project, so part of the video is from the van ride with the dashcam footage picking up at Mile 16 of the Highway.

The dashcam segment is sped up to five times because I know that no one wants to sit through 35-plus minutes of driving footage. It also increases the sense of danger.

Some 20 years ago, we hiked up the Barr Trail to the top and then headed back down, staying at the Barr Camp. This year’s plan had been to take the Cog rail to the top and hike the 12 miles of the trail back to town, but the Cog is closed this season, so we ended up driving.

 

Sharing a hail storm

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After a day and a half of driving and less than an hour from camp, we drove through a serious hail storm in Colorado Springs, Colo. In a rental. Without purchasing the optional full coverage.

The first chunks of ice hit like bricks, slamming into the car. I was just waiting for one to crash through the windshield. As the storm intensified, the hail came faster, and we headed for a tree next to the road to wait it out. I caught the whole thing on a dashcam (see above).

Later, at the campsite after the storm passed through, we found ping-pong sized hailstones all over the ground.

Luckily, I wasn’t able to find any damage to the vehicle.

Trip shot: Pony Express

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  Pony Express rider galloping across the sky at the Colorado visitors center.

Trip shot: Veterans memorial

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  Detail of a veterans memorial in North Platte, Nabraska. Taken shortly before sunset.

Video: Splash

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I shot this back in January and edited and forgot to do anything with it until now.

Another Columbus letter makes it home

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MayflowerWILMINGTON, Delaware — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigation Philadelphia special agents and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware returned Thursday a more than 500-year-old copy of Christopher Columbus’ letter describing his discoveries in the Americas to the Vatican during a repatriation ceremony at the Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana (the “Vatican Library) in Vatican City. The letter, originally written in 1493, was stolen from the Vatican Library and later sold in 2004 for approximately $875,000. This is the third Christopher Columbus’ letter repatriation in the past two years.

The return marks the second Columbus letter to be returned this months and the third in recent years.

In or around Dec. 1921, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus donated a copy of the Columbus Letter (along with thousands of other rare books and manuscripts) to Pope Benedict XV. The Columbus Letter was preserved in the Vatican Library. After receiving a copy of the Columbus Letter, at no time did the Vatican City State or the Vatican Library relinquish title to this document. In or around 1934, a detailed description of the Vatican Library’s copy of the Columbus Letter was cataloged in the census copies of the standard bibliography of fifteenth-century printing, otherwise known as the Gesamtkatalog der Wiegendrucke (volume VI, Leipzig, 1934, no. 7177). At an unknown time and date, the Columbus Letter was stolen from the Vatican Library and replaced with a forgery, which was designed to appear like the original letter.

Like the prior recovered letters, the return of the Vatican’s Columbus Letter followed a multi-year joint investigation conducted by HSI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Delaware. After receiving a tip that the Vatican Library’s letter was stolen and replaced with a forgery, law enforcement determined that the original letter was located in a private art collector’s personal collection in Atlanta, Georgia. The investigation determined that this individual purchased the stolen Columbus Letter in good faith during a February 2004 transaction worth $875,000.

In April of 2017, following negotiations between U.S. Attorney’s Office and representatives for the individual in possession of the letter, the parties agreed to permit a subject matter expert to inspect and compare both the Columbus Letter in Atlanta against a copy of the Columbus Letter in the Vatican Library’s possession. The expert determined that the Columbus Letter located in Atlanta was, in fact, the original Columbus Letter that belonged to the Vatican Library, and that the copy in the Vatican Library’s possession was a forgery. Following this analysis, the person in possession of the Columbus Letter in Atlanta voluntarily agreed to relinquish title and interest in the Columbus Letter.

Columbus letter returned

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Photo courtesy of Immigration and Customs Enforcement

WASHINGTON — U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Department of Justice returned a more than 500-year-old copy of Christopher Columbus’ letter describing his discoveries in the Americas to Spain during an evening repatriation ceremony at the Residence of the Spanish Ambassador to the United States on June 6, 2018.

The letter, originally written in 1493, was stolen from the National Library of Catalonia in Barcelona and sold for approximately $1 million.

In March 2013, it was discovered that the Columbus Letter believed to have been stolen from Barcelona was reportedly sold for 900,000 euros in June 2011. Following extensive negotiations with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Delaware, the individual in possession of the letter volunteered to transfer custody to HSI Special Agents, which was then brought to Wilmington, Delaware in February 2014 for further examination. In March 2014, a subject matter expert evaluated the letter and determined that the document was “beyond all doubt” the original stolen from the National Library of Catalonia.

Additionally, other experts conducted a series of non-invasive digital imaging tests, which determined, among other things, the probable use of a chemical agent to bleach the ink of National Library of Catalonia’s stamp and that the paper fibers of the Catalonia Plannck II Columbus Letter had been disturbed from their original state where the stamps were previously located.

U.S. Attorney David C. Weiss stated, “The recovery of this Plannck II Columbus Letter on behalf of the Spanish government exemplifies not only the significance of federal agency partnerships in these complicated investigations, but the close coordination that exists between American and foreign law enforcement agencies. We are truly honored to return this historically important document back to Spain – its rightful owner. I commend the dogged efforts of HSI special agents and Department of Justice attorneys who are dedicated to the recovery of stolen cultural artifacts from around the world.”

The repatriation marks the second return of a Columbus letter by ICE, the most recent until now taking place in May 2016.

Sharing a thunderstorm 

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