SALT LAKE CITY —Usually it’s buyer beware. If you’re going to buy something expensive — a Rolex watch or piece of art, for instance — you want to make sure it’s real and not a cheap imitation. And, like the Pawn Stars crew, sometimes you have to call in the Guy with the Hat to have it checked out.

Now customs agents said they busted a smuggling ring that was trying to disguise artifacts looted from Peru as cheap knockoffs in an attempt to sneak them into the United States, where they were sold for tens of thousands of dollars.

On Wednesday, a federal grand jury in Utah handed up indictments charging Cesar Guarderas, 70, and Rosa Isabel Guarderas, 45, naturalized U.S. citizens from West Valley City, and Peruvian nationals Javier Abanto-Sarmiento, 39, and Alfredo Abanto-Sarmiento, 36, with smuggling Peruvian artifacts and interstate transportation of stolen property. The charges came following an undercover probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

Customs officials allege the group imported authentic cultural artifacts by using a contact at the National Institute of Culture of Peru who provided forged government documents certifying the items were replicas.

The investigation began in October 2012, and the following month undercover agents arranged to buy artifacts from Guarderas. They put down $3,000 towards two items and later picked up 10 more for $20,000, according to customs officials. Guarderas told the buyers that the artifacts were real.

Enter the Guy in the Hat, in this case experts from Utah Valley and Tulane universities and testing at a University of Washington, Seattle laboratory, which determined the artifacts were genuine. So the stuff that was made to look fake was real.

The ICE account continues:

Over the course of the investigation, HSI special agents captured the defendants discussing the trafficking conspiracy including Cesar Guarderas saying Javier Abanto-Sarmiento had access to more than 100 pieces of pottery in Peru and was willing to ship them to the United States. They were also recorded discussing how the ring bribes officials in Peru to get the artifacts out of the country; and stating that they know where to look for buried pottery.

Cesar and Rosa Isabel Guarderas were arrested March 25 and later released pending trial.Javier Abanto-Sarmiento was arrested in Miami March 4 when he arrived in the United States from Peru. Alfredo Abanto-Sarmiento, who is in Peru, remains at large.

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