Friday, December 21, 2012

U.S. v. Khouli et al. Update: Second Guilty Plea Expected Today in Egyptian Antiquities Case


Earlier this week, Holyland Numismatics coin dealer Salem Alshdaifat signaled his intention to plead guilty to one charge of accessory after the fact in the case of U.S. v. Khouli et al.  The reduced offense is a class B misdemeanor under 18 USC 1018, subject to a maximum punishment of six months incarceration and a fine of $5000.

A federal grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of New York originally indicted Alshdaifat in May 2011 with conspiracy to smuggle.  The indictment alleged that he directed Mousa Khouli to wire $20,000 to Ayman Ramadan’s bank account.  It also alleged that Alshdaifat received an airway bill from Ramadan incorrectly showing that “wooden panels” were shipped by Ramadan’s company in the United Arab Emirates to JFK airport in New York.  Alshdaifat was also charged with money laundering conspiracy, smuggling goods into the United States, and fraudulent importation and transportation of goods.  The indictment described the goods as an Egyptian inner coffin, Egyptian funerary boats and limestone figures, and a portion of an outer lid of a nesting Egyptian coffin set.  

A grand jury indictment is simply a mechanism that initiates a criminal case; it is not a finding of guilt.

In a December 19 letter sent to the federal district court in Brooklyn, which describes today's expected plea of guilty to the substituted misdemeanor charge, Alshdaifat's attorney writes:

"The specific conduct to which Mr. Alshdaifat is charged in the misdemeanor information, and is expected to allocute to in court on Friday [December 21, 2012], involves the importing, on or about May 7, 2009, of certain Egyptian artifacts, including limestone funerary objects, from the United Arab Emirates to the United States by other co-defendants in the case. The airwaybill for this shipment was required by United States Customs law and regulations to include "such information as is necessary to enable the Customs Service to determine whether the merchandise may be released from customs custody." 19 U.S.C. § 1484(a)(l)(A)(i). This information includes, inter alia, the value of the goods being imported. 19 U.S.C. § 1485(a). In this case, the importer of  record, Mousa Khouli, intentionally misled Customs by placing merchandise in international mail that exceeded the value authorized to be entered into the United States by informal entry through the post. 19 C.F.R. Part 145, subp. B, § 145.12(a)(2).  On the airwaybill, he intentionally omitted the value and country of origin of the merchandise included in the mail package.  This certification made to the United States Customs Service was knowingly false in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1018 and 19 U.S.C. §§ 1484-85. 

"After the international mail shipment arrived in the United States and was received by Mr. Khouli, he asked Mr. Alshdaifat, the seller on consignment of this merchandise, not to require him to make a direct payment of $40,000 for these items.  Instead, the two agreed to credit their accounts on other business.  By doing this, Mr. Khouli was able to avoid creating evidence that he knew that the value of the objects he imported was more than $2,000 and that he made intentionally false statements to Customs.  After the importation had been completed, Mr. Alshdaifat agreed to this financial arrangement knowing that it was intended to avoid creating evidence of Mr. Khouli's earlier violation of the U.S. Customs laws."

Last month the federal district court sentenced Khouli to house arrest after he pleaded guilty on April 18 to smuggling Egyptian cultural property into the United States and making a false statement to law enforcement.  Prosecutors were unable to obtain the prison term they requested.

Alshdaifat too seeks the court's leniency.  His lawyer writes, "The offense to which Mr. Alshdaifat is pleading guilty is substantially less serious and his conduct much less culpable than that of Mr. Khouli."  Counsel for the defendant adds:

ICE: Artifacts seized in US v. Khouli et al.
"Because Mr. Alshdaifat had only an accessory-after-the-fact role in Mr. Khouli's scheme to make false statements to U.S. Customs, and because he otherwise has a commendable personal history, no prior criminal history, and sympathetic family circumstances, he respectfully requests that the Court not impose a term of imprisonment or probation as part of his sentence for this conduct.  Also, because Mr. Alshdaifat already has suffered substantial economic harm from the fact that this case was brought against him, in both the form of lost business and from the government's improper seizure of his entire inventory of ancient coins for several months after raiding his home at the time of his arrest, we respectfully ask the Court not to impose a significant fine."

Antiquities collector and businessman Joseph A. Lewis, II was also indicted as a co-defendant last year.  His next court hearing is scheduled for January 3, 2013.  The fourth co-defendant indicted, Ayman Ramadan, remains a fugitive.  Both are presumed innocent unless the prosecution proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

In 2011, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reportedly seized a large quantity of artifacts associated with the criminal investigation, including hundreds of allegedly smuggled antiquities from throughout the world, an Egyptian sarcophagus, two Indian wooden horses, and thousands of antique coins from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamian.  Authorities last year returned coins seized from Alshdaifat's home back to him. In 2011, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reportedly seized a large quantity of artifacts associated with the criminal investigation, including hundreds of allegedly smuggled antiquities from throughout the world, an Egyptian sarcophagus, two Indian wooden horses, and thousands of antique coins from ancient Greece, Rome, Egypt and Ancient Mesopotamian.  Authorities last year returned coins seized from Alshdaifat's home back to him.

UPDATE December 31, 2012

Court papers published on Friday reveal that Alshdaifat pled guilty on December 21 pursuant to an agreement with federal prosecutors.  He pleaded to accessory after the fact to making a false official writing, a misdemeanor.  The information filed by U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch charged the defendant with the following:

"In or about and between October 2008 and November 2009, both dates being approximate and inclusive, within the Eastern District of New York and elsewhere, the defendant SALEM ALSHDAIFAT, together with others, knowing that an offense against the United States had been committed, to wit: making and delivering as true a certificate or other writing containing a false statement, contrary to Title 18, United States Code, Section 1018, did knowingly and intentionally receive, relieve, comfort and assist the offender, to wit: Mousa Khouli, also known as "Morris Khouli," in order to hinder and prevent his apprehension, trial and punishment. (Title 18, United States Code, Sections 3 and 3551 et seq.)"

The court imposed a penalty of $1000 plus $10 special assessment.
 

This post is researched, written, and published on the blog Cultural Heritage Lawyer Rick St. Hilaire at culturalheritagelawyer.blogspot.com. Text copyrighted 2012 by Ricardo A. St. Hilaire, Attorney & Counselor at Law, PLLC. Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post is prohibited. CONTACT: www.culturalheritagelawyer.com