Thursday, June 13, 2002

Shop owner charged with smuggling Honduran artifacts

By Carrie Spencer
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — A shop owner smuggled 1,400-year-old clay artifacts from Honduras and sold them alongside wind chimes and bird feeders, federal prosecutors say.

        Douglas Hall, co-owner of Accent on Wild Birds in suburban Grandview Heights, is charged with two counts of smuggling and one count each of conspiring to smuggle and making false statements to U.S. Customs agents.

        A federal grand jury issued the indictment Tuesday against Mr. Hall, 44, of Upper Arlington, and unsealed a May 21 indictment against co-defendant Tulio Monterroso-Bonilla, 39, of Honduras.

        In January 1998, Mr. Hall and Mr. Monterroso-Bonilla paid $11,000 for 200 bowls and figures made between A.D. 600 and A.D. 950 by the Lenca people, the indictment said. Prosecutors are not releasing the market value of the artifacts.

        The Central American country outlawed exporting such artifacts in 1984 and 1998.

        The pair shipped the items to Miami in March 1998, declaring to the Customs Service they were ceramics and souvenirs worth $37, the indictment said.

        The Customs Service is not yet releasing how the store advertised or priced the artifacts, said Scott Best, resident agent in charge in Columbus. The agency will return recovered artifacts to Honduras, he said.

        Miami customs officials arrested Mr. Monterroso-Bonilla in April. He was released on a $100,000 property bond, said Fred Alverson, spokesman for the U.S. attorney's Office in Columbus.

        Smuggling and conspiracy each are punishable by up to five years in prison, while falsifying a Customs statement carries a maximum two-year sentence.

        Mr. Hall has not been arrested, and no court hearings have been scheduled.

        Customs agents seized several artifacts from the store, Mr. Alverson said.

        “Anybody who may have purchased one of the items, we would appreciate if they would contact the U.S. Customs Service,” he said. “These are items that have great historical significance to Honduras and all Native American cultures.”

        The theft and sale of archaeological treasures is a growing international problem, but very few everyday shoppers are likely to encounter such items, said Gary Vikan, director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and chairman of the art issues committee for the Association of Art Museum Directors.

        Dealers should have documents called provenance papers authenticating an artwork's origin and that it was legally obtained, Mr. Best said.

        Messages were left Wednesday at the store for Mr. Hall.

        The store's Web site features Native American Art but does not mention its source. The store also sells fossils, minerals, jewelry, mounted insects and other items.


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