US files charges in antiquities smuggling scheme

Federal authorities have charged a group of antiquities dealers and collectors in connection with what they said was an organized criminal ring smuggling artifacts into the country, including ancient coins and a sarcophagus.

Federal authorities have charged a group of antiquities dealers and collectors in connection with what they said was an organized criminal ring smuggling artifacts into the country, including ancient coins and a sarcophagus.

An indictment unsealed Thursday in federal court in Brooklyn alleged the men — Mousi Khouli, Salem Alshdaifat, Joseph A. Lewis, and Ayman Ramadan — smuggled articles into the country while trying to avoid the notice of U.S. Customs and Border Protection from October 2008 through November 2009.

The indictment said the men made false claims about the origins of the artifacts and how much they were worth, and that they provided misleading descriptions and claims on shipping labels and paperwork.

"This was an organized scheme designed to smuggle goods into the United States," said James T. Hayes Jr., special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations in New York.

Agents seized a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, dated around 664 to 552 B.C., as well as Middle Eastern and Asian artifacts and more than a thousand antique coins.

Khouli is an antiquities dealer in New York; Alshdaifat is a dealer in West Bloomfield, Mich., and Ramadan is a dealer from Jordan. Lewis is a collector from Chesterfield, Va.

Officials said Lewis bought antiquities from Khouli, who had purchased them from the other two men. The items were exported from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to the United States.

Hayes said it was unclear where the artifacts had originally come from, if they were from private collections or the patrimony of another country.

Officials said Ramadan is a fugitive. Alshdaifat was arrested in Michigan and made a court appearance there Wednesday.

Alshdaifat is a dual Canadian-Jordanian citizen with permission to work in the U.S., said Detroit U.S. attorney's spokeswoman Gina Balaya. She said he was being held pending a hearing on bond conditions.

An email message seeking comment was left Thursday with Alshdaifat's business, Holyland Antiquities.

Lewis and Khouli were in custody in New York and were expected to make court appearances Thursday. An attorney for Lewis did not immediately return a call.

Gerald Shargel, attorney for Khouli, said, "We're going to get to work and vigorously defend this case."

___

Associated Press Writer David N. Goodman in Detroit contributed to this report.

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