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Probation in orchid investigation

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  I found this while searching for another case. A Peruvian man pleaded guilty and got probation in an international orchid smuggling investigation. The following is from the U.S. Department of Justice.

South American Man who Illegally Trafficked in Protected Orchids on Layover at LAX Pleads Guilty
Oct. 30, 2015

LOS ANGELES – A Peruvian national who possessed orchids in violation of an international wildlife treaty has pleaded guilty to a federal offense of illegal trade in a protected species.

Victor Manuel Arias Cucho, 46, of Lima, Peru, pleaded guilty to the offense Wednesday in United States District Court.

This case is the result of U.S. authorities discovering more than 200 protected orchids in Cucho’s luggage at Los Angeles International Airport. Cucho was flying from Australia to Peru on September 24, when he had a layover at LAX after attending an orchid trade show in Sydney.

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Peru loot rundown

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Customs officials recently returned paintings, statues, pottery and other artifacts that had been looted from Peru and turned up in the United States on eBay, at auction houses and in homes and businesses over the years.

Here’s the ICE rundown on the cases:

25 Peruvian cultural treasures returned to the government of Peru
Oct. 22, 2104
WASHINGTON — Four separate investigations by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations led to the seizure of several looted Peruvian artifacts smuggled into the United States during the last several years. The artifacts were returned Wednesday to the Peruvian Consuls during simultaneous repatriation ceremonies in San Antonio, Denver and Boston.

Items returned included two Colonial-era Cusco paintings, a funerary vessel from100-1532 A.D., a Chancay statue from 1200-1450 A.D., a Lambayeque-style vessel from 800-1300 A.D., and Incan artifacts looted from ancient Peruvian graves.

Two paintings of St. Vincent Ferrer and St. Anthony Abbot were returned Oct. 22 by HSI San Antonio. They were stolen from the Maria Magdalena Church in Taray, Peru, in October 2001. The paintings were ripped from the upper-left and upper-right niches of the principal altar of the church. Both were retouched and re-framed for sale and auction in the United States.

In 2009, HSI Austin received information regarding four antique religious oil paintings stolen from churches in Peru that were sold at an Austin auction house. HSI special agents initiated an investigation and determined the paintings were listed in Interpol’s stolen works of art database. The paintings were seized from the individuals who purchased the paintings. Two of the paintings were repatriated to the Republic of Peru in 2012.

HSI Salt Lake City initiated its investigation after receiving information from HSI Tel Aviv that a U.S. citizen had been arrested by the Israeli antiquities authorities for attempting to smuggle antiquities out of Israel. Special agents interviewed the individual at his home in Utah which resulted in the seizure of objects purchased in Peru and Costa Rica and smuggled into the country. Part of the collection included pre-Columbian pottery from Peru. One item was a Chancay statue from 1200-1450 A.D., and the other was a funerary vessel from100-1532 A.D.

HSI Knoxville investigated a business in Tennessee that sold Mayan artifacts. The business claimed the objects were from the Lambayeque region of Peru and were from an old collection, but the dates of importation and the origins were unknown. During an undercover investigation, HSI special agents purchased a vessel which was purported to be pre-Columbian. Experts from Tulane University examined the object and determined it was a black “Strap and Spout” vessel likely made in the Lambayeque style, circa 800-1300 A.D.

HSI Boston/Manchester special agents received information that an individual was attempting to sell looted Peruvian artifacts on eBay. The investigation determined the individual had a business partner in Peru who purchased artifacts from local farmers who looted graves. The artifacts were mailed from Bolivia to avoid Peruvian customs officials.

Special agents found the suspect to be in possession of numerous pre-Columbian cultural heritage artifacts which were determined to belong to Peru. They seized 37 items. The Peruvian Ministry of Culture verified that 20 of the items seized were in fact genuine and cultural property of Peru.

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Smuggling ring tried to pass off artifacts as fakes

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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.

Moche artifacts headed back to Peru

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(Note: Originally posted 7.15.12)


This bronze tumi knife was used in Pre-Inca sacrificial ceremonies in what is now Peru before it was swiped and brought to the U.S. Last week, the tumi and other loot, some of which was listed on eBay, was returned to Peruvian authorities. Photo courtesy of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.


A few months ago, we wrote about a gold bell shaped like a monkey head that was on its way back to Peru after being looted. Last week, U.S. customs officials announced the monkey head, which was made by the Moche culture some 1,500 years ago, now has some company.

Another looted hoard being repatriated to Peru includes a bronze tumi sacrificial knife, a woven belt, a Moche whistling bowl as well as other pottery and some more recent (1700s ) paintings. A Thursday ceremony at the Peruvian embassy in Washington, D.C., marked the occasion.

“The plundering of cultural property is one of the oldest forms of organized cross-border crime and has become a world-wide phenomenon that transcends frontiers,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton said in a prepared statement.

The looted artifacts were recovered in the course of five separate investigations by special agents of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in New York; W.V.; Wilmington, Del.; and Austin and Houston, Texas, officials said.

Federal agents determined the items were removed from Peru and brought to the United States in violation of laws in both countries, including statues that restrict the importation of pre-Columbian artifacts and colonial-era religious objects into the United States without proper export documents.
Where did the feds find the stuff? Authorities said some was listed by prestigious auction houses. And some, it appears, was for sale on eBay.

According to the an ICE statement on the case, “two of the Cusco (Cusco is a region in Peru) oil paintings – Saint Ignatius of Loyola, and Virgin and Child – were sold at an auction house in Austin. Seven other Peruvian antique paintings were being sold from a Houston gallery. The pre-Columbian Chimu-Inca whistling pot and Andean textile were being sold on eBay. In an undercover Internet operation, HSI special agents in West Virginia targeted sellers of illicit pre-Columbian artifacts operating from this Internet site. The monstrance was listed for sale at Christie’s auction house in New York and HSI special agents discovered it was consigned by an art collector associated with museums in Puerto Rico and Denver.”

The monstrance — a Eucharist receptacle — was stolen from St. Stephen the Martyr, a small Catholic church in Yaurisque, located in the Cusco region. The Moche ceramic jar and the tumi knife were consigned by an estate trust in order to be sold at an auction house in Madison, N.J.
The collection of items returned includes:

Nine 18th century religious paintings from the Cusco region;
A pre-Columbian Chimu-Inca double-chambered blackware vessel that whistles when it contains liquid;
An ancient Andean textile that may have been used as a woman’s belt;
A Spanish colonial silver gilt and enamel monstrance from the 1700s. This type of receptacle was and is still used in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches;
A ceramic jar from the Moche culture that portrays farmers and fishermen who lived on the river valleys and the arid coastal plain of northern Peru during 100 to 800 A.D.; and
A Peruvian bronze ceremonial blade, or tumi, used by the Inca and pre-Inca cultures in the Peruvian coastal region as a sacrificial ceremonial knife.
(7.15.12)