LAWFUEL – Press Release Service – R. Alexander Acosta, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Jonathan I. Solomon, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Miami Field Office, announced today the arrests of defendants Edgar Nakache, Susan Aviles, and Cecilia Marcillo-Aviles. The arrests stem from the illegal importation of pre-Columbian artifacts into the United States, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 545 and 2315. Approximately 150 artifacts were seized during the arrest, valued at over $2,000.000.00. If convicted, the defendants face up to ten (10) years’ imprisonment. The defendants made their initial appearance in federal court today before Magistrate Judge William Turnoff, and were released on bond.
Pre-Columbian art consists of pottery, baskets, jewelry, carvings, figurines and sculptures that pre-date the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. The pre-Columbian artifacts in this matter originated from Ecuador and are considered by experts to date back to 3,000 B.C. Under Ecuadorian law, it is illegal to possess, sell, or transport out of Ecuador any historical artifacts, which are deemed property of the Ecuadorian government. Thus, the transportation of the artifacts from Ecuador to the United States is a violation of the National Stolen Property Act.
This matter originated when an e-mail was sent soliciting the sale of some 600 pre-Columbian artifacts. Officials at the International Council of Museums (“ICOM”) in Paris, France, spotted the message and contacted Interpol in France. Interpol then contacted the Ecuadorian National Police, which in turn contacted the FBI.
The FBI in Miami then initiated an undercover investigation, through its Rapid Deployment Art Crime Team, which was established in 2004. The team is composed of twelve FBI special agents, each responsible for addressing art and cultural property crime cases in particular geographic regions. An Art Crime Team member is assigned to the Miami Field Office.
During the undercover operation, undercover agents communicated with the defendants and, with the assistance of an expert, confirmed that the articles being solicited were authentic pre-Columbian artifacts. After additional undercover contacts, the defendants provided the undercover agents with a bank account number for them to wire transfer a $2 million payment upon the final sale. In addition to the items seized in Miami, a simultaneous seizure was scheduled to occur in
United States Attorney Alexander Acosta stated, “Historical artifacts are a delicate treasure that must be preserved. Any attempt to illegally profit and trade in such rare national treasures will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Jonathan Solomon, of the Miami Field Office, stated, “Today’s actions demonstrate the success of cooperative efforts between foreign governments and federal, state, and local law enforcement authorities. The recovered artifacts are priceless, and hold historical significance for the people of Ecuador. No one should seek to profit from antiquities that are part of our world’s history and can never be replaced.”
Mr. Acosta commended the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including its Legal Office in Santiago, Chile, the United States Department of State, the South Florida Cargo Theft Task Force, the Miami Dade Police Department, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the Florida Highway Patrol. Mr. Acosta made particular mention of the fine work of the Ecuadorian National Police and the Ecuadorian government on this matter. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Russell Koonin.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.