The arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby has agreed to pay a $3 million fine for illegally smuggling thousands of ancient clay artifacts into the United States from Iraq, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
Under a civil complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Hobby Lobby will forfeit thousands of cuneiform tablets, clay bullae and cylinder seals it falsely labeled as “samples” and shipped through the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
The Oklahoma-based company brought more than 5,500 artifacts for $1.6 million in December 2010 from an unidentified dealer. Prosecutors said the acquisition was “fraught with red flags.” Hobby Lobby got conflicting information about where the artifacts had been stored and never met or communicated with the dealer selling them, according to court documents. When it came time to pay, the company wired money to seven separate bank accounts.
Before the sale, the complaint says, an expert on cultural property law warned Hobby Lobby that artifacts such as cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals may have been looted from archaeological sites.