Crackdown on Fake Indian Arts and Crafts

Published: Sep. 25, 2007 at 4:30 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 25, 2007 at 9:22 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C--Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne said today that a recent jury verdict is an example of an ongoing crackdown on sales of fake Indian arts and crafts led by the Department of the Interior Indian Arts and Crafts Board.

A jury in Gallup, New Mexico, convicted local arts dealer Amro Al-Assi of fraud on August 16, 2007. The Board is currently conducting other investigations into those who sell counterfeit American Indian arts and crafts.  

"This verdict should send a strong message to the Indian arts and crafts marketplace and to the buying public that sales of counterfeit or otherwise misrepresented Indian arts and crafts to consumers will not be tolerated," said Kempthorne.  "Such fraudulent sales are eroding the market for authentic Indian work."

Al-Assi, then co-owner and manager of the Silver Bear Trading Company in downtown Gallup, was convicted of selling a counterfeit bracelet as the work of a well-known Navajo jeweler, Jesse Monongya, whose original works command high prices in the market.

The purchaser of the bracelet had originally filed a complaint with the Board at Interior.  The Board enforces the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, a federal truth-in-marketing law that prohibits the sale of arts or crafts  that are counterfeit or falsely represented as American Indian or Native American made, or as the product of a particular individual Indian artisan, unless the item was produced by a member of a federally or officially state recognized Indian Tribe.  

The Board collaborated with Interior's Office of Inspector General, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Gallup, New Mexico, to launch a joint investigation.  By collaborating with the Eleventh Judicial Division II District Attorney's Office in Gallup, District Attorney Karl R. Gillson's office ultimately chose to prosecute the case under its state fraud statute.  

"McKinley County District Attorney Karl Gilson and his staff are to be highly commended for their outstanding expertise, dedication, and hard work to obtain this important conviction.  The Board is continuing to receive additional information regarding fraudulent activity in the Indian arts and crafts market, and we are pursuing other investigations," said the Board Director Meridith Stanton.

DA Gillson said that there was "no room to plead this down to anything less than a felony" but to take it to trial and let the local community of jurors hear and decide Al-Assi's fate.  Gillson said, "Clearly, the jury sent the message that maintaining the integrity of communities and of the Native American arts and crafts industry is vital and important to the Indian peoples' livelihood and the communities' economic endurance." Mr. Gillson said that his office "will continue to collaborate with the Indian Arts and Crafts Board and other federal and state law enforcement agencies to combat this tide."

Most recently an agreement between Interior and the FBI was finalized that authorizes all appropriate Interior law enforcement professionals, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management, to investigate complaints filed under the Indian Arts and Crafts Act.

(U.S. Department of the Interior)