Marble sarcophagus piece returned to Greece

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photo courtesy Manhattan District Attorney’s Office

An ancient marble sarcophagus fragment to the Hellenic Republic during was returned Greece during a repatriation ceremony Feb. 10, 2017, according to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.

As part of an ongoing joint investigation in January, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office seized pursuant to a search warrant the ancient marble sarcophagus fragment from a gallery in Midtown Manhattan, where it was displayed as the centerpiece. The item, which originally dates back to 200 A.D. and depicts a battle between Greek and Trojan warriors, was stolen from Greece in 1988. The artifact was then smuggled abroad and transported through Europe before finally landing in New York. 

Once presented with evidence of the theft, the Manhattan-based art gallery forfeited the item willingly, and the repatriation ceremony represents the return of the ancient sarcophagus fragment to Greece, where it will be displayed for public view and research at the National Archeological Museum of Athens.

Three sentenced in snake trafficking investigation

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 Three men have been sentenced as a part of Operation Kingsnake, a three-year investigation that uncovered the illegal trafficking and collecting of hundreds of wild snakes in Oregon, 11 other states, and Canada, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Michael Collalto, of Rochester, New York, pleaded guilty Jan. 30, 2017, in federal court in Rochester, New York, to four Lacey Act violations for his role in the trade of illegally caught snakes. From 2008 through 2012, Collalto was part of a group of individuals that trafficked hundreds of illegally collected snakes to or from Oregon, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut and Canada.

Collalto, a breeder and collector of reptiles, pleaded guilty to three counts of illegal transport of wildlife and one count of illegal receipt of wildlife, which are misdemeanors under the Lacey Act. In court documents, Collalto admitted that between 2011 and 2012, he knowingly participated in violations, which involved the illegal collection, transport, and receipt of snakes that were collected from and protected by New Jersey and Oregon.


Indictments for imitation jewelry

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photo courtesy ICE

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – A federal grand jury returned an indictment Tuesday charging four individuals with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) by conspiring to import and fraudulently sell Filipino-made jewelry as Native American-made.

This is the second indictment filed as the result of a continuing federal investigation that began in January 2015. The investigation targeted an international scheme to violate the IACA, and has included the execution of eight search and seizure warrants and investigative activity in New Mexico, California, Alaska, Kentucky, Nevada and the Philippines.

The three-count indictment charges the following four defendants with conspiring to violate the IACA and the federal fraudulent importation, money laundering, wire fraud and mail fraud laws:

Imad Aysheh, 41, formerly of Gallup, New Mexico, who is identified as the owner and operator of Imad’s Jewelry, a jewelry manufacturing business in the Philippines;

Iyad Aysheh, 45, of Lodi, California, who is identified as the chief executive officer and agent for IJ Wholesale, Inc., a California corporation that imports jewelry into the United States;

Nedal Aysheh, 37, formerly of Gallup, New Mexico, and

Raed Aysheh, 39, of American Canyon, California, who is identified as the owner and operator of Golden Bear & Legacy, LLC, a retail store in Calistoga, California, that specializes in Native American-style jewelry.

A fifth defendant was indicted in 2015.

According to the indictment, from March 2014 through October 2015, the four defendants conspired to violate the IACA by displaying and offering for sale jewelry manufactured in the Philippines in a manner that suggested that it was Indian-produced and the product of American Indian tribes. The indictment also alleges that these defendants conspired to defraud the United States and its people of money by using the U.S. mail and wire communications to promote the importation and sale of the Filipino-made jewelry as Indian-made, and to launder the proceeds of those unlawful sales.


Conviction in Pakistani smuggling case

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ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A New Mexico man was convicted Thursday by a federal jury for multiple crimes, including his role in a conspiracy to smuggle ancient artifacts into the United States from Pakistan. This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), with assistance provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the National Geographic Association.

According to evidence presented at trial and court records, Ijaz Khan, 42, of Sante Fe, New Mexico, was part of a conspiracy that smuggled ancient artifacts into the U.S., including pottery and bronze weapons stolen from burial sites and coins from a cave temple in Pakistan called the Kashmir Smast. Khan and Vera Lautt, 57, also of Santa Fe, used their business, Indus Valley, to sell the artifacts. One shipment of artifacts was stopped at Dulles International Airport in October 2013. Khan and others then attempted to obtain the shipment by submitting various false and fraudulent documents to CBP.


Photo: Downtown sunrise

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Downtown Sunrise.

It’s finally that time of the season when the sun is starting to come as I leave my morning exercise class. No filters, just metered off the clouds.

Photo: Winter driving

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Sliding through the holidays, taking care of a few last-minute errands.

More on forfeiture of looted Syrian artifacts

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img_0681Yesterday, we wrote about four historical artifacts (including the gold coin pictured at left) looted from Syria that ISIL sold.

Today we are including links to the court documents that the government filed that spell out the legal arguments to claim any of the objects should they turn up. After you get through the legalese, there are some interesting details tucked away about how ISIL issues antiquities looting permits and collects a cut of the finds. Readers will also learn more about how a dispute between the state and merchants led to a kidnapping.

As a bonus, we’ve included a second file of exhibits and attachments in the case. This includes images of receipts and permits issued to diggers as well as a transcript of the hearing on the kidnapping. The exhibits come with English translations.

U.S. seeks looted Syrian artifacts

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Gold ring with carved gemstone. This ring is believed to be from the Hellenistic/Roman period, dating approximately from 330 BC to 400 AD, and to have come from Deir Ezzor, Syria, which is near where the raid against Abu Sayyaf occurred. Finger not included. Photo courtesy of Abu Sayyaf’s raided archives.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced it was on the lookout for four artifacts it believes were looted from for Syria and sold to benefit war chests belonging to ISIS (also known as ISIL and De’esh).

The forfeiture complaint spells out how authorities traced the items thanks to the records of Abu Sayyaf, the late ISIS antiquities minister who was in charge of taxing and permitting looters who were taking advantage of chaos in the war-torn country to dig up ancient artifacts for profit.

The complaint goes on to describe how one of Sayyaf’s underlings even kidnapped the 16-year-old son of one of the antiquities merchants at gunpoint. This came following a dispute over tariffs on relics and gold that had been dug out of the ground with pick axes. In the end, Sayyaf was ordered to apologize to the boy’s family, and the underling was directed to go to shari’al law and military course.


Arrest in stolen art sold at flea market

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  NEW YORK — A Queens man has been arrested for allegedly swiping more than $600,000 worth of Native American and African artwork from his employer. He then sold it through a flea market and concocted a story that he obtained the art through storage unit sales.

Here’s the the details from the Department of Justice:

From approximately July 2010 through April 2012, Leon Zinder was employed as an art handler by a New York-based company (the “Company”) that manages an extensive art collection consisting of thousands of individual artworks, including an extensive collection of Native-American and African ethnographic artwork. During that time, Zinder stole at least 13 works of art from facilities maintained by the Company. 

Beginning in approximately September of 2015 through October 2016, Zinder sold, or attempted to sell, the stolen artwork through a consignment relationship with an art dealer who conducted his business through an outdoor flea market in lower Manhattan (the “Dealer”). As part of his efforts to sell the stolen artwork, Zinder falsely claimed he had obtained the works from both the elderly widow of a sheriff in Phoenix, Arizona, and from a storage-unit close-out sale.

In total, Zinder attempted to sell at least 13 works of art through the Dealer, worth more than $600,000. This included at least three items that ZInder had stolen from the Company’s Greenwich, Connecticut, facility and transported to Manhattan: a Fang Reliquary Guardian Head statue valued at approximately $85,000; a Native American mask valued at approximately $75,000; and a Pende mask valued at approximately $5,000.

Eventually, the Dealer became aware that several of the artworks he had helped ZInder to sell had been reported stolen by the Company. At that point, the Dealer contacted the FBI and began assisting in the subsequent investigation, including turning over the majority of the stolen works to the FBI.

Zinder, 48, of Forest Hills, Queens, is charged with one count of interstate sale of stolen property, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000, or twice the defendant’s gross gain or twice the victim’s gross loss resulting from the defendant’s conduct, whichever is greater.  

Photo: City snowfall

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Snowfall in the city. (c)2016 J.S.Reinitz

Texas rhino horn sale results in plea

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IMG_0312Long Island Man Pleads Guilty to Trafficking in Rhinoceros Horns

Nov. 29, 2016

Fengyi Zhou, a resident of Syosset, New York, and the owner of a business that specialized in Asian works of art, pleaded guilty today to illegally trafficking horns from endangered black rhinoceros.
Zhou, 49, who has worked as an Asian art dealer for years, pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge William F. Kuntz II for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, New York, to a one count information charging him with wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act.

Zhou was identified as part of “Operation Crash” – a nationwide effort led by the USFWS and the Justice Department to investigate and prosecute those involved in the black market trade of rhinoceros horns and other protected species.

In papers filed in federal court, Zhou admitted to purchasing as many as five uncarved rhinoceros horns from another Asian arts dealer in New York. Along with the horns, Zhou was given an “Endangered Species Bill of Sale,” from which Zhou was made aware that four of the horns were purchased in Texas and unlawfully transported to New York. Immediately after purchasing the rhinoceros horns, Zhou offered to sell and later sold the horns, to an associate who was a Chinese national residing in the People’s Republic of China for more than $130,000.

Return of the mummy’s hand

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Photo courtesy Josh Denmark/Immigration and Customs Enforcement

An Egyptian mummy hand is on its way home after customs officials formally handed over the appendage — and four other artifacts — to Egyptian authorities Thursday.

The 8th century BCE hand had been smuggled into the United States, and customs agents found it labeled as a prop for a sci-fi movies during an investigation. It was the latest repatriation in the Operation Mummy’s Hand and Operation Mummy’s Curse probes, which include the case of the nesting sarcophagus found in a Brooklyn garage in 2009. 

According to Immigration and Customs Enforcement:

The ongoing investigation has identified a criminal network of smugglers, importers, money launderers, restorers and purchasers who used illegal methods to avoid detection as these items entered the United States. Items and funds were traced back to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Iraq, France, and other nations.

To date, Operation Mummy’s Curse has secured four indictments, two convictions, 19 search warrants, and 16 seizures totalling approximately $3 million. The agency is also seeking an international fugitive involved in the case.

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