ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Three New Mexico residents face federal charges in a scam to sell Filipino-made jewelry as being made by American Indians, U.S. Attorney Damon Martinez announced Thursday.
The three individuals were recently arrested following a long investigation and a raid of jewelry stores in Albuquerque and Gallup, New Mexico, along with Calistoga, California, Martinez said at a news conference announcing the charges.
According to the indictment unsealed Thursday, Nael Ali, 51, and Mohammad Abed Manasra, 53, both of Albuquerque, and Christina Bowen, 41, of Los Lunas, all took part in a scheme to sell Native American-style jewelry made in the Philippines in violation of the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act.
That law prohibits the sale of any jewelry or piece of art that falsely claims it was produced by American Indians.
The indictment gave little detail on how the scheme allegedly worked. But court documents say Ali owned two jewelry stores in Albuquerque’s Old Town — Gallery 8 and Galleria Azul — and another American Indian-style shop in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Bowen worked at Ali’s Albuquerque stores and conspired to sell the purported American Indian jewelry and, in at least in one case, sold to an undercover agent two rings for nearly $700 that were falsely advertised to be made by a Navajo artists, court documents said.
Manasra described himself as a wholesaler of Native American jewelry and supplied Ali with the fake jewelry from the Philippines, the indictment said.
If convicted, all three face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine each.
Phone messages left by The Associated Press to numbers listed for Gallery 8 and Galleria Azul were not immediately returned. A caller who answered a Coachella, California, phone listing for Manasra refused to answer questions and hung up on a reporter.
It was unclear if any of the three charged had attorneys.
Martinez said the arrests were about protecting and preserving the cultural heritage of Native Americans and their art.
“The cultural heritage of American Indians is a precious national resource, and it is critically important that we provide the proper respect to those whose creations are seen by some as simple retail commodities to be exploited for profit,” Martinez said.
Martinez said Filipino authorities also conducted interviews at two factories in the Philippines as part of the international investigation.
Sam English, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Indians from North Dakota and an Albuquerque resident, said he was glad federal authorities were aggressively going after those who violate Indian Arts and Crafts Act. As a painter, English said he knows of at least one case where someone tried to sell a fake print under his name.
“We found them and sued them,” English said. “We have to protect our work.”
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras .