Feds Raid 4 Calif. Museums in Claimed Art Smuggling Scheme
Posted Jan 24, 2008 1:39 PM CDT
By Martha Neil
More than 100 federal agents raided four Southern California museums and a Los Angeles art gallery this morning after a five-year investigation of an alleged foreign art-smuggling scheme.
Dozens of agents from the Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and other federal agencies descended upon the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art in Santa Ana, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Mingei International Museum in San Diego and the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena. The coordinated raids were seeking evidence about looted Southeast Asian and Native American artifacts claimed to have been funneled into the museums' collections, reports the Los Angeles Times.
"The 120 pages of search warrants filed publicly today paint a picture of rampant fraud and theft," the Times writes. "The documents suggest that the involvement of American museums in the purchase of looted art is far more extensive than even recent high-profile scandals have indicated."
It is unclear, however, whether officials at all of the museums were aware of legal issues posed by the artifacts, according to the newspaper. It says the primary targets of the federal investigation are Robert Olson, an alleged art smuggler; and Jonathan Markell, who owns Markell's Silk Roads Gallery in Los Angeles, which was also raided. The Berkeley Art Museum received similar art donations, according to search warrants, but apparently was not raided.
Stunned museum officials either declined to discuss the raids or could not be reached for comment.
As discussed in earlier ABAJournal.com posts, the J. Paul Getty Museum and a curator have been sued and charged, respectively, with trafficking in looted Italian art, at least some of which has been returned by the museum.
Similar deals also have been made by museums in Boston and New York, the Times notes.