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Plea in whale teeth trafficking

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John “Jake” Bell, of Lakeville, Connecticut, pleaded guilty June 6 to illegally trafficking teeth from endangered sperm whales.

Bell pleaded guilty today in Boston to one count of wildlife trafficking in violation of the Lacey Act. As part of his plea, Bell admitted that in November 2004, while in the Ukraine, he sold approximately 34 sperm whale teeth to a co-conspirator who resided in Nantucket, Massachusetts, for $11,600. Bell shipped the 34 teeth in multiple boxes from the Ukraine to an associate in Connecticut, from where his co-conspirator retrieved them. Bell’s co-conspirator was convicted in 2010 after a jury trial and sentenced to 33 months in prison.

According to the indictment, Bell acquired the teeth and smuggled them into the United States. Bell, who was an artist and scrimshander, carved some of the teeth he sold, but also sold uncarved teeth to customers. According to papers filed in federal court, between July 2005 and June 2006, Bell smuggled in excess of 49 pounds of sperm whale teeth into the United States, valued in excess of $26,000. Also, according to these filings, between June 2007 and April 2008, Bell sold nine carved teeth to customers in the United States, with a total value of $20,300. 

The Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act protects sperm whales and prohibits their parts from being sold in interstate or foreign commerce or imported into the United States without a permit.

Artifacts from Hobby Lobby probe returned to Iraq

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ICE returned 3,800 ancient artifacts, including cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, and clay bullae, to the Republic of Iraq. The artifacts were smuggled into the United States in violation of federal law and shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc, a nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer. Contributed photo.

 
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement returned 3,800 ancient artifacts, including cuneiform tablets, cylinder seals, and clay bullae, to the Republic of Iraq. The artifacts were smuggled into the United States in violation of federal law and shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc, a nationwide arts-and-crafts retailer.

Many of the tablets can be shown to come from the ancient city of Irisagrig. The tablets, primarily from the Ur III and Old Babylonian period (2100-1600 BCE), are mostly legal and administrative documents, but also include an important collection of Early Dynastic incantations and a bilingual religious text from the Neo-Babylonian period. Two clay cones are inscribed with royal inscriptions from the Early Dynastic Lagash II periods (mid-third millennium BCE). The clay bullae include artifacts believed to be of Parthian or Sasanian date (late 2nd cent. BCE – early 7th cent. AD).

“These pieces are very important to us and they should be returned home to Iraq, to the rightful owner of these pieces,” said Ambassador of Iraq to the United States Fareed Yasseen.

The artifacts returned were initially intercepted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The shipping labels on these packages falsely described the cuneiform tablets as tile samples.

“CBP is honored to have played a role, together with ICE, in the return of these national treasures to their rightful owner, the Republic of Iraq. In doing so, we ensure the protection of this priceless cultural heritage and secure a precious, tangible link to the past for future generations,” said U.S. Customs and Border Protection Assistant Commissioner Ian Saunders.

After a review of the items and their documentation, ICE Homeland Security Investigations Special Agents, in conjunction with Assistant U.S. Attorneys at United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York conducted interviews of a number of Hobby Lobby employees between January and June of 2016 which led to the discovery of a deliberate intent by employees of the company to avoid using a customs broker for the artifacts related to this transaction.

Wednesday’s event was the first repatriation of cultural property to Iraq since March 2015, when ICE returned ancient antiquities and Saddam Hussein-era objects, including the Head of Assyrian King Sargon II, a limestone fragmentary head of Lamassu, the winged bull, from the Palace of Sargon II. ICE has returned more than 1200 items to Iraq in five repatriations since 2008.

Photo: Frozen lake

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Frozen Lake. (c) 2018 J.S. Reinitz

Artifacts seized in Interpol operation

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A marble head was among the seizures made during the first joint customs and police operation codenamed Athena organized by the World Customs Organization and INTERPOL, and the Europe-focused Operation Pandora II coordinated by the Spanish Guardia Civil and Europol. courtesy photo

 More than 41,000 objects including coins, furniture, paintings, musical instruments, archaeological pieces and sculptures were seized in a global operation targeting the trafficking of cultural artifacts between October and December 2017.

The seizures were made during the customs and police operation codenamed Athena organized by the World Customs Organization and INTERPOL, and the Europe-focused Operation Pandora II coordinated by the Spanish Guardia Civil and Europol.

It included checks at airports and border crossing points, searches at auction houses, museums and private homes and monitoring of online markets.

In just one investigation in Spain, the Guardia Civil seized more than 2,000 cultural objects, the majority of which were coins from the Roman and other Empires.

Officials also seized 88 pieces of ivory as well as weapons including swords, a crossbow and 39 historical firearms ranging from rifles to pistols.

Other highlights:

· Argentinean Federal Police recovered the shell of a Glyptodon, an extinct mammal. The shell, estimated to be more than one million years old, was on sale for $150,000.

· Brazilian Customs seized a marble head hidden in a passenger’s suitcase. Verification of the piece’s provenance is ongoing.

· A painting by Nicolas de Staël worth approximately € 500,000 was intercepted by French Customs at the Gare du Nord in Paris as it was being smuggled to London.

· Searches of a businessman’s two homes and two commercial properties by Greek Police resulted in the recovery of 41 archaeological objects which did not have the necessary license. 

Tens of thousands of checks were carried out at airports and border crossing points across 81 countries. Auction houses, museums and private houses were also searched, resulting in more than 300 investigations being opened and 101 people arrested. courtesy photo.

Two charged with theft of relic gold bar

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  Two men have been charged in the theft of a gold bar from a Key West, Florida, museum in 2010. According to the U.S. Department of Justice:

The defendants are accused of driving to Key West from West Palm Beach on or about August 18, 2010, and entering the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum. It is alleged that Jared Alexander Goldman, 32, of Palm Beach Gardens stood guard as a lookout to enable Richard Steven Johnson, 41, of Rio Linda, Calif., to steal the gold bar. Johnson then allegedly removed the gold bar from its display case at the museum and both defendants then drove back to West Palm Beach. The gold bar has not been recovered.

The 75-ounce bar was originally found in 1980 in the wreck of the Spanish galleon Santa Margarita, which sank in 1622. It had been on display in an acrylic case that allowed museum visitors to lift the bar. 

It had been valued at $550,000.

More about the museum can be found here

Photo: Sunrise through trees

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Jail sentence in timber theft

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courtesy photo

 A Washington state man has Ben sentenced to 30 days in jail for chopping down a big leaf maple on federal land near Olympic National Park. Authorities said 63-year-old Michael Welches and others sold the wood to an instrument maker.

According to the Department of Justice:

On November 11, 2013, a neighbor residing near the Elwha restoration project lands notified the Park Service that he had heard chainsaws in the middle of the night. The neighbor said he saw people in the woods wearing headlamps. The neighbor reported similar activity a few nights later. The ranger investigated in daylight and found a felled big leaf maple. He asked the neighbor to call him directly if he heard or saw additional activity. The next night, at 1:00 AM the neighbor alerted the ranger. Law enforcement responded and arrested WELCHES and two codefendants as they were cutting and loading the felled maple. A receipt indicated the men had sold the wood to a Quilcene, Washington music wood supplier. Wood retrieved from that supplier matched the wood from the felled maple. 

The value of the timber as music wood is estimated to be $8,766.
Welches has a prior conviction from 2004 for cutting in a state timber trust, according to DOJ.

A second defendant, Matthew Hutto, has pleaded guilty is awaiting sentencing, and a third man, Richard Welches, is being sought by law enforcement. 

Cow head and two torsos returned to Lebanon

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  The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office recently sent three sculptures looted from the Temple of Eshmun back to Lebanon The objects had been seized with a court warrant, and the owners surrendered them after learning of their background, according to the DA’s office. The items include:

— Torso E1912: In November, a marble torso, circa the 4th century B.C.E., was recovered from a private owner who acquired it after the statue was excavated in the 1970s from the Temple of Eshmun, an ancient place of worship near Sidon in southwestern Lebanon. The item was subsequently stolen during the Lebanese Civil War and sold by an antiquities dealer before being shipped to New York.

— The Calf Bearer: In October, another marble torso, circa the 6th century B.C.E. and valued at approximately $4.5 million, was recovered from a private owner who acquired the artifact after it too was excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in the 1970s, stolen during the Lebanese Civil War, and sold to private collectors.

— The Bull’s Head: In July, a marble bull’s head, circa 360 B.C.E. and valued at approximately $1.2 million, was recovered from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it was on loan for display by a private collector who acquired the statue after it was also was excavated from the Temple of Eshmun in the 1960s, transferred to the Byblos Citadel in Jubayl, stolen during the Lebanese Civil War, and sold to private collectors..

Rain review

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Rainscape

 Some nights when the family is all cozy at home watching movies, it’s good to get out in the driving rain and walk the mile or so to the nearest corner shop for no other reason than to test out your gear.

My excuse for the torrential trek was to buy a milk and a two liter of Coke, but in reality I was just bored of sitting around the house. Anything to get out of the house. Go for a walk in a monsoon? Sure, as long as I can get out of the house

 

Rain selfie

 I strapped my Elk Mountain hiking boots to my feet, donned my lightweight Old Navy rain coat and slung my Swiss Gear Dash Pack. The load out wasn’t my first choice for inclement weather, but it what I figured I would likely be stuck with in a pinch on any random day.

The heavy rain transformed the streets into creeks, and the wind made the very air a whirlpool

Not long into the wall, I realized the raincoat was inadequate for the serious downpour, better suited for darting from cars to buildings and back. The boots held up well, and though the pants got wet, they were a poly-cotton ripstop that remained comfortable for the walk.

I made it to the store, and when I put my purchases in the pack I noticed there was standing water that had accumulated in the bottom, and I had to dump it out. The everyday carry items I keep in the bag fared well, except for two small boxes of raisins that were waterlogged. 

Since then I have bought a thicker raincoat and now keep a rain and dust cover to the backpack. For the next time I get bored during a rainstorm.

rain crossing

Photo: Bull mural

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Old style mural in small town America. Pool hall, soft drinks.

Thanksgiving walk

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 Greenbelt Lake was down a bit during my Thanksgiving Day walk. The edge had receded about 20 feet from the usual shoreline, so I took the opportunity to beach-comb and look for objects that would otherwise be underwater.

Here’s a chronological list of what I found :

— Evergreen with Christmas ornaments. Just inside the treeline.

— Beaver lodge built along the treeline and starting to expand into the lake.

— Plastic fishing bobber in the sand. Green and white sphere.

— Submerged golf ball. Titliest No. 1 with a single crack in the shell. It was halfway buried in the muck, and I used a stick to dig it out and roll it shore.

— Submerged domestic beer can. Too far into the water to tell if it was opened, unable to reach it with the stick.

— Submerged golf ball. Jack Nicklaus No. 4. Used the stick to roll it in. In bad shape, appears to have undergone some terraforming.

— Fishing thing. Short plastic spike surrounded by styrofoam with a spring on one end.

— Second beaver lodge. This one blocked the beach, so I had to go up into the forest and back around. Lots of gnawed sapling stumps jutting out of the ground like punji stakes.

— Thin sheet of ice floating on the lake’s southeast edge.

— Hockey stick shaft, minus the striking surface.

 

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