I am referring, of course to Hobby Lobby, which has been caught smuggling antiquities to provide exhibits for their “Museum”:
The packages that made their way from Israel and the United Arab Emirates to retail outlets owned by Hobby Lobby, the seller of arts and craft supplies, were clearly marked as tile samples.
But according to a civil complaint filed on Wednesday by federal prosecutors in Brooklyn, they held something far rarer and more valuable: ancient clay cuneiform tablets that had been smuggled into the United States from Iraq.
Prosecutors said in the complaint that Hobby Lobby, whose evangelical Christian owners have long maintained an interest in the biblical Middle East, began in 2009 to assemble a collection of cultural artifacts from the Fertile Crescent. The company went so far as to send its president and an antiquities consultant to the United Arab Emirates to inspect a large number of rare cuneiform tablets — traditional clay slabs with wedge-shaped writing that originated in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago.
In 2010, as a deal for the tablets was being struck, an expert on cultural property law who had been hired by Hobby Lobby warned company executives that the artifacts might have been looted from historical sites in Iraq, and that failing to determine their heritage could break the law.
Despite these words of caution, the prosecutors said, Hobby Lobby bought more than 5,500 artifacts — the tablets and clay talismans and so-called cylinder seals — from an unnamed dealer for $1.6
million in December 2010.
In addition to the complaint, the prosecutors on Wednesday filed a stipulation of settlement with Hobby Lobby that requires the company to return all of the pieces, and to forfeit to the government an additional $3 million, resolving the civil action.
Hobby Lobby’s purchase of the artifacts in December 2010 was fraught with “red flags,” according to the prosecutors. Not only did the company get conflicting information about the origin of the pieces, its representatives never met or spoke with the dealer who supposedly owned them, according to the complaint.
Instead, on the instructions of a second dealer, Hobby Lobby wired payments to seven separate personal bank accounts, the prosecutors said. The first dealer then shipped the items marked as clay or ceramic tiles to three Hobby Lobby sites in Oklahoma. All of the packages had labels falsely identifying their country of origin as Turkey, prosecutors said.
Multiple transfers to accounts, deliberate and varied mislabeling of their country of origin, and the CEO of Hobby Lobby is claiming that they should have been better at dotting their “I”s and crossing their “T”s.
This is bullsh%$. This was an organized effort by Hobby Lobby boss Steve Green to smuggle artifacts into the United States: He went to the UAE to inspect the artifacts, ignored conflicting data regarding provenance, and was scrupulous in using an intermediary to avoided dealing directly with the dealer of the artifacts.
Prosecutors should be pursuing him personally over this. The federal conspiracy statutes should cover this nicely.