A Manhattan Dealer Sold Fake Antiquities for Decades

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tags: antiquities, Forgery

For years, looted antiquities have been a law enforcement priority, not only because the smuggling of ancient artifacts damages the cultural heritage of their countries of origin, but because illicit sales have sometimes financed the operation of drug gangs or terror organizations.

But prosecutors say Mehrdad Sadigh, a New York antiquities dealer whose Sadigh Gallery has operated for decades in the shadow of the Empire State Building, decided not to go to the trouble of acquiring ancient items.

He made bogus copies instead, they say, creating thousands of phony antiquities in a warren of offices just off his display area and then marketing them to unsophisticated and overeager collectors.

“For many years, this fake antiquities mill based in midtown Manhattan promised customers rare treasures from the ancient world and instead sold them pieces manufactured on-site in cookie-cutter fashion,” the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., said in a statement after Mr. Sadigh was arrested earlier this month.

Mr. Sadigh has pleaded not guilty to charges of scheming to defraud, grand larceny, criminal possession of a forged instrument, forgery and criminal simulation.

Among the people he sold to, according to prosecutors, were undercover federal investigators who bought a gold pendant depicting the death mask of Tutankhamen and a marble portrait head of an ancient Roman woman — paying $4,000 for each. Those sales became the basis for a visit to the gallery in August by members of the district attorney’s office and Homeland Security investigations, who said they found hundreds of fake artifacts displayed on shelves and inside glass cases. Thousands more, they said, were found in the rooms behind the gallery — including scarabs, statuettes and spear heads in differing stages of preparation.

Matthew Bogdanos, the chief of the district attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, said in an interview that the visit revealed a sort of assembly-line process that seemed designed to distress and otherwise alter mass-produced items of recent vintage so they would appear aged. Investigators, he said, found varnish, spray paints, a belt sander and mudlike substances of different hues and consistencies, among other tools and materials.

Read entire article at New York Times