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First looted art repatriation to Libya

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photo courtesy Amanda Mason, ICE

 WASHINGTON – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations International Operations Division Chief Leo Lin returned a sixth century marble statue known as the “Head of a Veiled Woman,” during a repatriation ceremony at the Libyan Embassy, Thursday.

The repatriation marks the first reparation ceremony between Libya and the United States.

The return of the statue was the culmination of an 11-year investigation led by HSI New York’s Cultural Property, Arts and Antiquities Unit, in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

In June 2008, HSI New York initiated a cultural property investigation in response to information indicating that looted antiquities were shipped to the United States from Dubai. The investigation revealed an antiquities dealer illegally shipped 50 items of cultural property originating from various nations to major museums, galleries and art houses in New York City.

In August 2008, HSI seized the Libyan marble statue during its shipment from the Dubai-based antiquities dealer to a collector in Queens, New York. The seized statue is the fragmented head of a veiled woman statue that is measured 13 inches tall by 10 inches wide. Ongoing efforts in this investigation led to the identification of several key players in a transnational criminal organization, engaging in the illicit trafficking of cultural antiquities.

 

photo courtesy Amanda Mason, ICE

 
The statue originated in the ancient city of Cyrene, Eastern Libya, and is part of the rich cultural heritage amongst the Libyan community.

In February 2018, Libya signed a historical memorandum of understanding with the United States to protect Libya’s cultural property from illegal smuggling and highlight the principle that culture truly unites people.

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Customs agents seize looted Cambodian sculpture

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photo courtesy ICE

 SAN FRANCISCO ― On Sept. 12, 2019, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations San Francisco Special Agent David Keller, with assistance from HSI New York Special Agent John Paul Labbat, seized an ancient Cambodian sandstone sculpture dating back to 921-945 AD and valued at approximately $350,000.
Described as a Shiva and Uma statue, the artifact was discovered during an ongoing HSI New York investigation dubbed “Indochinese Peninsula Plunder” in the Southern District of New York. The investigation focuses on the smuggling activities of Douglas Latchford, a private collector linked to numerous looted Cambodian antiquities.
Originally purchased by a private collector in California, the statue was discovered for sale at a prominent San Francisco auction house following the collector’s death in 2015. It will be returned to the Cambodian people at the conclusion of this HSI-led investigation.

Two charged with timber theft in 2018 forest fire

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  Seattle – Two former Hood Canal area residents are charged with stealing to wood of big leaf maple trees from Olympic National Forest.

The indictment alleges that between April and August 2018, Justin Andrew Wilke and Shawn Edward Williams felled and sold publicly-owned maple trees, according to the US Attorneys Office for Western Washington.

The indictment alleges that, in August 2018, the two started a forest fire in an attempt to burn out a bees’ nest when they  were trying to unlawfully harvest from the National Forest land. The resulting fire – known as “The Maple Fire” – burned more than 3,300 acres between August and November 2018 and cost approximately $4.5 million to contain..
According to the indictment, as early as April 2018, the defendants traveled into areas of the Olympic National Forest to scout for big leaf maple trees that might contain ‘figured’ wood – wood that is highly prized for musical instruments. The men looked for maple trees they could steal in areas around Elk Lake and Lena Lake. The men then cut the maple trees, took blocks of wood from the trees to a property near Lilliwaup, Washington, and sold the blocks to a lumber mill in Tumwater, Washington. The conspirators presented the mill owner with permits claiming the maple had been harvested on private land, when in fact it had been illegally cut and stolen from the National Forest.

In early August 2018, after selling thousands of dollars’ worth of maple to the mill, the two identified a big leaf maple they wanted to steal. However, the large tree contained a bee’s nest, which made it difficult to fell. After unsuccessfully attempting to get rid of the bees with wasp killer, the men decided to kill the bees by burning the nest. Wilke poured gasoline on the nest and lit it on fire. The men tried to put the fire out with water bottles but were unsuccessful. The fire grew into a 3,300-acre forest fire, damaging public lands in Olympic National Forest and costing $4.5 million to extinguish.

Wilke is charged with eight federal felonies: Conspiracy; two counts of depredation of public property; theft of public property; trafficking in unlawfully harvested timber; attempted trafficking in unlawfully harvested timber; setting timber afire; and using fire in furtherance of a felony. Williams is charged with conspiracy, depredation of government property, and attempted trafficking in unlawfully harvested timber.

Conspiracy, setting timber afire, and trafficking in unlawfully harvested timber are each punishable by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Theft of public property and depredation of government property are punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Using fire in furtherance of a felony is punishable by a mandatory ten-year sentence of imprisonment

Nedjemankh’s gold coffin headed back to Egypt 

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photo courtesy ICE

 From Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

NEW YORK — A repatriation ceremony took place Wednesday following the recovery of a stolen Egyptian artifact previously on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

This following an investigation with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations New York and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. 

The Gold Coffin of Nedjemankh was presented to the Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Hassan Shoukry who accepted the piece on behalf of the people of Egypt.

In February 2019, HSI New York and the D.A.’s Office executed a search warrant and seized the Gold Coffin of Nedjemankh from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on display, as part of an ongoing joint investigation with law enforcement partners in Egypt, Germany, and France. The extraordinary coffin, crafted in Egypt between approximately 150 and 50 B.C.E., once held the remains of high-ranking priest Nedjemankh. It was stolen from the Minya region of Egypt in the aftermath of the Egyptian Revolution in October 2011. It was then smuggled out of Egypt and transported through the United Arab Emirates to Germany, where it was restored, and to France, where it was sold to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in July 2017.

Once presented with evidence of the theft, the Metropolitan Museum of Art fully cooperated, culminating in Wednesday’s repatriation ceremony to return the artifact to Egypt, where it will be on public display. It has an estimated value of €3.5 million, or approximately $4 million.

Pennsylvania man sentenced for turtle trafficking

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Malaclemys terrapin

 David Sommers, 64, of Levittown, Pennsylvania, was sentenced in August 2019 to six months imprisonment and to pay $250,000 in restitution for trafficking protected turtles in U.S. District Court.

Authorities said Sommers represented himself as a legitimate reptile breeder, when he was in fact endangering the lives of these animals and breaking the law..

From November 2011 until October 2017, Sommers poached thousands of protected diamondback terrapins and their eggs from coastal marshes in New Jersey and illegally sold the turtles. A grand jury indicted Sommers on July 10, 2018 for his criminal conduct involving the sale, export and false-labeling of packages containing protected diamondback terrapins. On Feb. 4, 2019, Sommers pleaded guilty to false-labeling of packages containing protected diamondback terrapins.

Diamondback terrapins (Malaclemys terrapin) are a semi-aquatic species of turtle native to brackish waters in eastern and southern United States. They are not found in the wild in Pennsylvania, where Sommers resided, but have a dwindling habitat range in neighboring New Jersey. The terrapins are prized in the reptile pet trade for their unique, diamond-shaped shell markings. The turtles are protected under New Jersey law and by an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Florida couple indicted for cobra mounts, babirusa skull

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 We were too busy in July and missed this one from the U.S. Department of Justice: 

An indictment was unsealed in July (2019) from a federal grand jury sitting in Tampa, Florida, charges Novita Indah, 48, and Larry Malugin, 51, of Port Richey, Florida, with conspiracy and trafficking in protected wildlife. The indictment charges the couple with smuggling wildlife from Indonesia to the United States and reselling the wildlife from their Florida home.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service seized approximately 369 wildlife articles from their home during the execution of search warrant on Jan. 12, 2017. The agents recovered assorted Javan spitting cobra, reticulated python, and monitor lizard mounts, belts, and wallets, as well as a babirusa skull. A babirusa is a rare Indonesian pig prized for its distinctive curving tusks.

The indictment alleges that beginning in 2011, Indah and Malugin sold wildlife on eBay from their Indonesian home to buyers across the world. They would smuggle the items to purchasers in the United States in packages falsely labeled to conceal their contents. Indah and Malugin continued to sell wildlife after they moved to Puerto Rico and ultimately Florida in 2013. All of the wildlife was protected by an international treaty, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

In addition to the seized wildlife, Indah and Malugin also trafficked in taxidermy mounts and bones of leopard cats, owls, and Southeast Asian primates, including slow loris, macaques, lutungs, and langurs.

From 2011 to 2017, Indah and Malugin made approximately 4,596 online sales of CITES-protected wildlife worth about $211,212. USFWS and Customs inspectors repeatedly seized packages shipped by the couple, but they continued to sell wildlife using various eBay and PayPal accounts. 

If convicted, Indah and Malugin face a maximum sentence of 20 years’ incarceration on the smuggling charges and five years for the Lacey Act violations. The indictment also seeks to forfeit the wildlife seized from their residence.

Smuggled bronze statue and relief returned to India

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photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

 
LONDON – A limestone carved relief and Navaneetha Krishna Bronze figure from India were repatriated to their home country. On Aug. 15, 2019, the High Commissioner of India in London accepted the return of the artifacts on behalf of India.

The artifacts are linked to one of the most prolific art smugglers in the world, who was recently charged in Manhattan, New York, according to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials.

An individual in the United Kingdom who possessed the items came forward to Homeland Security Investigations expressing a desire to surrender the pieces.

In June 2019, working with the Metropolitan Police Service, the individual turned over the artifacts to authorities. With the assistance of Indian Customs and an expert examination, the limestone relief is estimated to date from 1st Century BC to 1st Century AD, originating from Andhra Pradesh.

The bronze figure is estimated to date from 17th Century AD, originating from Tamil Nadu.

Both items will be examined by domain experts at a later date to establish their exact period and original location. The repatriated artifacts are just two of more than 2,600 antiquities that have been recovered around the world. The investigation remains ongoing.

Coins returned to Greece

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photo of Greek coins on tiny easels. Courtesy HSI

 SAN FRANCISCO – Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) repatriated 10 Greek coins to the Government of Greece, Tuesday, during a reception at the San Francisco Greek Consulate.

The 10 coins were allegedly smuggled out of various Aegean islands such as the Island of Samos. The island of Samos is not covered by modern structures and has a lot of open, unprotected fields. These unexcavated archaeological sites are subject to the illegal use of metal detectors by collectors who remove artifacts, such as coins, for unlawful sale and profit.

In late August 2016, HSI detained a FedEx package with the assistance of U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the FedEx facility in Memphis, Tennessee. The shipment originated from a Munich-based, online coin dealer with previous violations for selling suspicious antiquities. This shipment contained five coins.

According an analysis of data collected by the Customs and Border Protection Laboratory in San Francisco, the coins were determined to be authentic Ancient Greek artifacts.

In September 2016, Keller interviewed the buyer of the intercepted package. During this interview, the buyer informed Keller that he made a purchase from the same seller a few months earlier for five other coins. Subsequently, the previously purchased coins were also evaluated and found to be Greek artifacts.

All 10 coins are estimated to be dated as early as 600 BCE and were minted in various locations throughout the Aegean Islands.

According to Greek Cultural Heritage Law, artifacts in the ground within Greece are the property of the Government of Greece and are not allowed to be removed for reasons other than Archaeological study. The lack of provenance documents and the low price of the coins were facts that supported the assessment that the coins were smuggled out of Greece.

In July 2011, The U.S. and Greece entered in to a Bilateral Agreement or Memorandum of Understanding with Greece to restrict the importation of carious cultural property from the Upper Paleolithic Period (approximately 2,000 B.C) through the 15th century A.D.

On May 10, 2019, the Office of International Trade-Regulations Rulings issued a decision to transfer the forfeited coins to HSI for the purpose of repatriation to the Government of Greece.

Two sentenced for harassing baby panthers 

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Two men have been sentenced for snagging panther babies from their den and sharing the experience on social media. Below is a recap from the Department of Justice.

Florida panther. Photo courtesy US Fish and Wildlife

Fort Myers, FL – On December 27, 2018, U.S. Magistrate Judge Carol Mirando sentenced Javier Torres (42, Miami) to 14 days’ imprisonment for harassing two endangered Florida panther kittens. 

The court also ordered Torres to pay a $1,000 fine, and sentenced him to complete 200 hours of community service and to serve three years’ probation. On December 18, 2018, Judge Mirando sentenced Alfredo Lopez de Queralta (46, Miami) to complete 100 hours of community service and serve two years’ probation in connection with the same incident. Both men previously pleaded guilty on September 12, 2018. 

According to court documents, in February 2017, Torres crawled into a Florida panther den in the Big Cypress National Preserve in Collier County and unlawfully removed two panther kittens. Lopez de Queralta filmed Torres as he displayed the kittens for the camera. Later, Lopez de Queralta uploaded and shared segments of the video on YouTube.

Florida panthers are considered to be among the most critically endangered large mammal species in the world, and experts estimate fewer than 200 Florida panthers are alive today.

Sawfish smuggling plea

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  A Virginia antiques dealer who once bragged that selling illegally imported sawfish blades was worth the risk because it would bring in more money has been ordered to forfeit $275,000 and faces possible prison time. 

Here are the details from the U.S. Department of Justice:

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The owner of an antiques and specialty shop in Middleburg pleaded guilty Dec. 19, 2018, to violating the Lacey Act by illegally selling and transporting between $250,000 and $500,000 worth of items made from endangered species, migratory birds, and other wildlife.

According to court documents, Keith Foster, 60, of Upperville, was the owner of The Outpost LLC. The Outpost specialized in selling foreign-sourced merchandise, a portion of which included wildlife products made from endangered species such as crocodiles, sea turtles, and sawfish. To evade enforcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Foster relied on a shipping company to falsify import records in order to hide wildlife items and avoid inspection by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other law enforcement officials.

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Fin-dictment in shark harvest

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  Members of a fishing vessel have been charged with harvesting sharks for the fin of it. More from the Department of Justice:

HONOLULU – The owner and officers of a Japanese-flagged fishing vessel were charged in federal court today with aiding and abetting the trafficking and smuggling of 962 shark fins into and out of Hawaii on Nov. 7, 2018. 

According to court documents and information presented in court, the Japanese-flagged fishing vessel, M.V. Kyoshin Maru No. 20, engaged in longline tuna fishing in the southern Pacific Ocean for approximately one year. 

 The officers were Japanese nationals, and the fishermen were Indonesian nationals. During the voyage, the fishermen harvested fins from approximately 300 sharks, in some instances while the sharks were stunned but still alive, and discarded the finless carcasses into the ocean, all under the supervision of the Captain, and at the direction of the Fishing Master and First Engineer. The Captain, Fishing Master, First Engineer, and many of the Indonesian fishermen all kept shark fins to take home with them.

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Wildlife charges added in murder plot investigation

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From the Department of Justice:

Nov.7, 2018

OKLAHOMA CITY –Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joseph Allen Maldonado, Joseph Allen Schreibvogel, and “Joe Exotic,” 55, formerly of Wynnewood, Oklahoma, has been charged in a 21-count superseding indictment that includes the two previously charged murder-for-hire counts and also alleges nineteen wildlife crimes, including the alleged killing of five tigers and the illegal sale of tiger cubs, in violation of the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma. 

  On September 5, 2018, a federal grand jury returned an indictment that accuses Maldonado-Passage of hiring an unnamed person in November 2017 to murder “Jane Doe” in Florida. According to the indictment, Maldonado-Passage gave the unnamed person $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to South Carolina and then to Florida to carry out the murder. He allegedly agreed to pay thousands more after the deed. The indictment alleges Maldonado-Passage caused the person to travel to Dallas to get fake identification for use in the plot. According to the indictment, the person traveled from Oklahoma to South Carolina on November 26, 2017.

In a second count, the September 5 indictment alleges that beginning in July 2016, Maldonado-Passage repeatedly asked a different unnamed person to find someone to murder Jane Doe in exchange for money. The second person put Maldonado-Passage in contact with an undercover FBI agent. Maldonado-Passage met with the undercover agent on December 8, 2017, to discuss details of murdering Jane Doe.

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