Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Weiss Pleads Guilty to Attempted Possession Charges in New York - State Criminal Law Applied Successfully in Cultural Property Case

Dr. Arnold Peter Weiss, originally charged with a felony, pleaded guilty today in a New York state court to misdemeanor counts of attempted criminal possession of stolen property in the fourth degree. Chasing Aphrodite has more on the case, and they report that Weiss's arrest for possessing stolen ancient coins turned into convictions for possessing forged coins Weiss believed to be real.

Weiss' plea agreement with the prosecutor, which was accepted by the court, calls for a sentence of community service, fines of $3000, and an order to write an essay about responsible coin collecting.  Other coins in Weiss' possession are to be forfeited.  Court records report that sentencing is scheduled for September 17.

Authorities charged the Rhode Island hand surgeon in January 2012 with Criminal Possession of Stolen Property over $50,000. They arrested Weiss and seized what Weiss and authorities then believed were ancient Greek coins originating from Italy.  The coins were to be sold at the International Numismatic Convention taking place in Manhattan.

Assistant District Attorney Matthew Bogdanos handled the case.  He is the author of Thieves of Baghdad, which describes his and others' efforts to retrieve artifacts from Iraq's national museum after its looting in 2003. Bogdanos employed a scanning electron microscope to determine that three coins, which were the subject of the case, were in fact forgeries and not authentic ancient coins.  Nevertheless, Weiss thought that the coins were authentic and that they were stolen from Italy, subjecting him to accountability for an "attempt" crime.

The convictions for attempted criminal possession will have to be studied in the coming weeks.  That is because the convictions represent a breakthrough for the successful application of state criminal laws, as opposed to federal criminal laws alone, to combat international cultural property trafficking.  Fakes and forgeries of antiquities, ancient coins, and other cultural property are found in the illicit market along with authentic trafficked artifacts, so today's courtroom result is no less significant.

Indeed, all fifty states have receiving stolen property laws on the books, which can be applied in cases where a person is in criminal possession of stolen cultural property.  The states also have "attempt" laws, which would cover a person's attempt to possess stolen cultural property or possession of forged cultural property believed to be authentic.  Beyond these statutes, the states maintain consumer protection laws with applicable penalties to guard against the appearance of fraudulent and stolen items in the marketplace.  The states also have nonprofit enforcement statutes that may be applied to specific cultural institutions or boards of directors that acquire illegal art, archaeological finds, or ethnological artifacts.

It should be noted that there is no request or court order to destroy the Weiss coins that were discovered to be fakes.  Meanwhile, sources indicate that the investigation in this case is of a continuing nature.

CONTACT: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com