A federal grand jury in Albuquerque returned an indictment February 9 charging five people of marketing or distributing fake Native American jewelry that was manufactured or imported jewelry from the Philippines. The indictment identifies 40 specifics fraudulent acts, including sales of the jewelry in stores in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico, to individuals who were unaware they were purchasing fake Native American jewelry.
Additionally, more than 50 financial transactions took place between April 2014 and October 2015, the indictment states. Sales involved more than $300,000 total, in amounts ranging from $1,100 to $60,000.
The recent indictment is the second to come as a result of a continuing federal investigation that began in January 2015 and led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The investigation targeted an international scheme to violate the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, which prohibits the marketing or sale of any good in a manner that falsely suggests that it is Indian produced, an Indian product or the product of a particular Indian tribe. Law enforcement agents executed eight search and seizure warrants in New Mexico, California, Alaska, Kentucky, Nevada and the Philippines.
“The indictment we announce today is the result of the largest investigation ever into [fake Native American jewelry] sales under the IACA,” said Nicholas Chavez, special agent in charge with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We hope the charges filed as a result of this continuing investigation will deter this criminal activity.”
U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez, of the District of New Mexico, condemned the activity and pointed to a lack of respect “to those whose creations are seen by some as simple retail commodities to be exploited for profit.”
“The indictments filed as a result of this continuing investigation are not only about enforcing the law, but also about protecting and preserving the cultural heritage of Native Americans,” he said. “Eliminating the flow of counterfeit Native American art and craftwork provides a level playing field for the highly talented, dedicated and hard-working producers of genuine Native American art.”
According to the indictment, the following four individuals are being charged with conspiring to violate the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, fraudulent importation, money laundering, wire fraud and mail fraud: Imad Aysheh, 41, formerly of Gallup, New Mexico, identified as owner and operator of a jewelry manufacturing business in the Philippines; Iyad Aysheh, 45, of Lodi, California, identified as CEO and agent for a California operation that imports jewelry into the United States; Raed Aysheh, 39, of American Canyon, California, identified as the owner and operator of a retail store that specializes in Native American-style jewelry; and Nedal Aysheh, 37, formerly of Gallup, New Mexico.
The indictment alleges that, between March 2014 and October 2015, Imad Aysheh manufactured Indian-style jewelry using Filipino labor for import into the United States while Nedal Aysheh provided source material and trained Filipino laborers. It also alleges that Iyad Aysheh imported jewelry, Iyad Aysheh and Raed Aysheh accepted shipments and Iyad Aysheh, Nedal Aysheh and Raed Aysheh distributed the fake Native American jewelry in stores specializing in the sale of Native jewelry.
The indictment further alleges that the four defendants conspired to defraud the United States of money by using the U.S. mail and wire communications to promote the importation and sale of the Filipino jewelry as Indian-made, and to launder the proceeds of these sales.
A fifth defendant, Nael Ali, 53, of Albuquerque, also is charged with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act in October 2015. Ali is owner and operator of two arts and crafts retail stores in the Old Town section of Albuquerque.
The indictment seeks forfeiture of more than $20,000 in cash, $6,723 in a bank account and more than 1,000 pieces of Indian-style jewelry. The five defendants are ordered to appear in federal court for arraignment. If convicted, they each face a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.