The three were arrested following a long investigation and a raid of stores in Albuquerque and Gallup, New Mexico, along with Calistoga, California, Martinez.
According to the indictment unsealed on 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 jewellery made in the Philippines in violation of the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act.
That law prohibits the sale of any jewellery or piece of art that falsely claims it was produced by American Indians.
The indictment gave little detail on how the scheme worked. But court documents say Ali owned two 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 jewellery and, in at least one case, sold to an undercover agent two rings for nearly $700 that were falsely advertised to be made by Navajo artists.
Manasra described himself as a wholesaler of Native American jewellery and supplied Ali with the fake items from the Philippines, the indictment said.
If convicted, all three would 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.
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. AP
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