At a conference in 2005 and then in a paper in 2007, I argued that state law could be employed in the same way as the federal National Stolen Property Act (NSPA) to tackle international cultural property crime. In an excerpt from the 2007 paper, entitled International Antiquities Trafficking: Theft By Another Name, I wrote:
District and county attorneys can rely on receiving stolen property statutes to target culpable receivers and sellers of antiquities .... Every state has enacted a receiving stolen property statute in some form. These laws prohibit a person from receiving property of another when the person knew the property was stolen. Many of these same statutes also criminalize situations where the person should know, had reason to know, had reason to believe, or simply believed that the property was stolen or probably stolen .... While state receiving stolen property laws are fundamentally similar to the federal NSPA, many provide distinct advantages to prosecutors.
First, several state statutes establish lower mental states. The NSPA requires proof that a person knew the received property was stolen, but several states only require proof that the actor should know, had reason to know, had reason to believe, or simply believed that the property was stolen or probably had been stolen. Thirty six states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws with a lesser mens rea.
Second, almost one quarter of the states possess some form of dealer provision, making it easier to prosecute antiquities traders. Where a dealer takes possession of an item and either (a) does not reasonably gather information about whether the item was lawfully sold or delivered to the dealer, (b) acquires the item for payment far below reasonable value, or (c) purchases or sells the item outside of the regular course of business, these statutes generally declare that the dealer is presumed to have known that the item was stolen. The New York Penal Law serves as an illustration of scenario “a”: 'A … person in the business of buying, selling or otherwise dealing in property who possesses stolen property is presumed to know that such property was stolen if he obtained it without having ascertained by reasonable inquiry that the person from whom he obtained it had a legal right to possess it (§ 165.55(2)).'
Third, state receiving stolen property statutes provide criminal penalties for defendants who possess property of most any value as compared with the NSPA’s $5,000 threshold.
The legal advantages of lower mental states, dealer presumptions, and decreased value thresholds make prosecuting antiquities trafficking under state law an appealing option, particularly when targeting receivers or sellers.