Friday, November 7, 2014

The Cultural Property Cases of AG Nominee Loretta Lynch

U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch
It is not every day that an attorney general nominee actually has a record of handling cultural property forfeitures and prosecutions. But that is the case with Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Lynch is President Barack Obama's choice to replace outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder.

Lynch's office has handled a few heritage trafficking cases, including...

Lynch's office filed a civil forfeiture complaint last month to forfeit a 65 million year old dinosaur skull. Prosecutors alleged that a fossil dealer unlawfully attempted to import an Alioramus head by failing to declare that it was real, that it originated from Mongolia, and that it had a value of $250,000.

2. U.S. v. One Ancient Roman Sarcophagus Lid with Sculpture of Reclining Woman
Litigation over a sculptured coffin cover came to a successful conclusion in September when Lynch's office finalized an agreement to forfeit the object from a collector so that it could be returned to Italy. The Roman sarcophagus lid was featured as an illicit antiquity in the Becchina archive.

3. U.S. v Victor Gordon
After a federal district court sentenced an ivory smuggler in June to a sentence of 30 months in prison, two years supervised release, a $7500 fine, and the forfeiture of $150,000 plus one ton of elephant ivory, Lynch remarked that “preventing the flow of illegal ivory through and within our borders” is an important American commitment. “This prosecution–which resulted in the seizure and forfeiture of one of the largest known caches of illegal elephant ivory in the United States and the imprisonment of the person who acquired and attempted to profit from it – is emblematic of that commitment.”

4. U.S. v. Khouli et al.
An antiquities trafficking case that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement billed in 2011 as "a ground breaking case for Homeland Security Investigations" ended with mixed results for Lynch's office. Only two out of four men were convicted. One case netted a sentence of house arrest for a New York gallery owner. Another saw a felony charge dropped to a misdemeanor; the defendant paid a fine. Prosecutors later dropped a third man's case after he satisfied a deferred prosecution agreement. And authorities later gave up looking for a fourth man, a fugitive from justice, after litigation came to an abrupt halt in 2013.

Lynch posted a vibrant press statement at the start of the prosecution when her office charged the defendants with conspiring to smuggle ancient artifacts, engaging in money laundering, and making false statements to carry out their crime. She said, "Antiquities dealers and collectors are on notice that the smuggling of cultural patrimony will not be tolerated." But her office's only other press release, issued the following year, was muted and devoid of any direct quotes from the U.S. Attorney.

The objects involved in the case included Egyptian sarcophagi, Iraqi glass vessels and clay relief plaques, and Iranian (Luristani) bronzes.

Photo source: U.S. Department of Justice

By Rick St. Hilaire Text copyrighted 2014 by Cultural Heritage Lawyer. Blog url: Any unauthorized reproduction or retransmission of this post without the express written consent of CHL is prohibited.