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Hobby Lobby to forfeit ancient Iraqi artifacts in settlement with DOJ

Hobby Lobby in Mansfield, Ohio. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons/Nicholas Eckhart

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) Arts and crafts retailer Hobby Lobby has agreed to forfeit thousands of illegally smuggled ancient Middle Eastern artifacts obtained from antiquities dealers for a Bible museum headed by its president, the company and U.S. officials said.

The forfeiture will include some 5,500 artifacts purchased by Hobby Lobby Inc. that originated from the region of modern-day Iraq and were shipped under false labels, as well as an additional $3 million to settle the civil charges, the Department of Justice said in a statement Wednesday (July 5).

“The protection of cultural heritage is a mission that (Homeland Security Investigations) and its partner U.S. Customs and Border Protection take very seriously as we recognize that while some may put a price on these artifacts, the people of Iraq consider them priceless,” Angel Melendez, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New York, said in the statement.

Privately held Hobby Lobby said that it was new to the world of antiquities when it began acquiring historical items for its Museum of the Bible in 2009 and made mistakes in relying on dealers and shippers who “did not understand the correct way to document and ship” them.

The company’s president, Steve Green, is the chairman and founder of the Museum of the Bible, which is under construction in Washington, D.C.

The artifacts being forfeited include cuneiform tablets and bricks, clay bullae and cylinder seals. Cuneiform is an ancient system of writing on clay tablets.

“At no time did Hobby Lobby ever purchase items from dealers in Iraq or from anyone who indicated that they acquired items from that country,” Green said in his statement. “Hobby Lobby condemns such conduct and has always acted with the intent to protect ancient items of cultural and historical importance. …

“We have accepted responsibility and learned a great deal,” Green added, saying that the company has now “implemented acquisition policies and procedures based on the industry’s highest standards.”

Federal prosecutors say that when Hobby Lobby, which is based in Oklahoma City, began assembling its collection it was warned by an expert on cultural property law to be cautious in acquiring artifacts from Iraq, which in some cases have been looted from archaeological sites.

Despite that warning and other red flags the company in December 2010 purchased thousands of items from a middleman without meeting the purported owner, according to prosecutors.

A dealer based in the United Arab Emirates shipped packages containing the artifacts to three Hobby Lobby corporate addresses in Oklahoma City, bearing false labels that described their contents as “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles” and the country of origin as Turkey.

About the author

Yonat Shimron

Yonat Shimron is an RNS National Reporter and Senior Editor.

16 Comments

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  • I find this story disturbing, very disturbing, on so many levels. Steve Green is quite bold in his efforts to make our civil law into something that comports with his religious beliefs, but is sneaky in his attempts to pillage another religion’s artifacts for his bible museum. He says he’s learning. Right. When did he realize that the crates/boxes were mislabeled? On the first shipment? The second shipment? The third? The hypocrisy is overwhelming…but he’s a religious man…or so he tells us. Or maybe religious living has nothing to do with righteous or ethical living.

  • “made mistakes in relying on dealers and shippers who “did not understand the correct way to document and ship” them.”
    Indeed. Labels saying clay tiles from Turkey was a simple labeling and shipping mistake I suppose.

  • Seems to be the go to excuse for bad judgements “learning on the job”. Yeah, that’s it.

  • Hobby Lobby is supporting ISIS (Al Qaeda at the time) and promoting looting of ancient artifacts. As if I didn’t consider them trash before.

  • I agree, but I think it might work better if we could do away with organized religion and focus on faith or nothing at all.

  • I don’t shop there and I have never eaten anything from a Chikfilay…I don’t even know how to spell it.

  • I want to know why Steven Green, President of Hobby Lobby, isn’t in prison. If someone who worked at one of his stores stole several thousand items from that store, that person would be in prison.

    I am tired of rich people getting off the hook. Giving up what was bought illegally and then paying a fine is just the rich man’s way of avoiding being held responsible for unlawful, immoral behavior. Did Green sell his mansion, sell property, did he lose anything except maybe a bit of ego that he was caught and his lack of care for standards of honesty is now so clearly displayed?

    This isn’t justice.

  • Hobby Lobby promotes its twisted heretical version of Christianity while supporting overseas companies that pay their employees about a dollar a day. What a wonderful example of following Christ’s teachings (sarcasm). Nothing but a bunch of hypocrites.

  • Good point. BTW, there are Federal Statutes on the books which forbid associating, paying, etc foreign terrorists. Steven Green should be placed on trial and found guilty of said laws then spend the remainder of his life in a super max prison. Just wonder who’s little “hctib” (rhymes with itch) he would become?

  • “I want to know why Steven Green, President of Hobby Lobby, isn’t in prison.” Same reason why Hillary Clinton is not in prison. People with money and political connections do not face the same legal process. The little lady in the robe w/ the scale and sword and blindfold peeks! No surprise. Last time … failure of the judicial system to charge and convict Clinton angered Conservatives. This time … failure of the judicial system to charge and convict Green angers the left-wing Liberals. Guess what goes around comes around. Some call it karma. Nope. Just the difference between being rich and well connected and being not rich and not well connected. That’s justice. It is not right. It is not wrong. It is legal. That is (not equal) justice under the law.

  • Obviously they are above the law, or not above trying to change the law to further financial gain.

  • What is consistent is that the rich are not prosecuted regardless of left or right politics. Uneven justice is a problem. People fight for rights – you know, like the Magna Carta of about 1215, that put the king under some kinds of laws, then the English Bill of Rights of the late 1600s that further defined rights and limited the rulers, to our own Constitution.

    I think there will always be a problem of wealthy people having and even buying influence under any kind of legal system that is set up. What needs to happen is for there to be frequent enough oversight and pulling back when the rich become too powerful. And, in the U.S., the rich have become too powerful and “favored” themselves in how laws are written and justice is managed.

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