He has sold antiques for decades, many of which are fake, investigators say
For years, looted antiquities have been a priority for law enforcement, not only because the smuggling of ancient objects damages the cultural heritage of their countries of origin, but because illicit sales have sometimes financed the operation. drug gangs or terrorist organizations.
But prosecutors say Mehrdad Sadigh, a New York antiques dealer whose Sadigh Gallery has operated for decades in the shadow of the Empire State Building, has decided not to bother to acquire antiques. .
He made fake copies instead, they say, creating thousands of fake antiques in a maze of offices right next to his exhibition area, then marketing them to unsuspecting and over-enthusiastic collectors.
“For many years, this fake antique mill based in midtown Manhattan promised its customers rare treasures from the ancient world and instead sold them pieces made on the spot like a cookie cutter,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. said in a statement. statement following Mr Sadigh’s arrest earlier this month.
Mr. Sadigh pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to fraud, robbery, criminal possession of a counterfeit instrument, forgery and simulated criminality.
Among those he sold to, prosecutors said, were undercover federal investigators who purchased a gold pendant depicting Tutankhamun’s death mask and a marble portrait head of an ancient Roman woman – paying 4,000 $ each. The sales became the basis for a visit to the gallery in August by members of the District Attorney’s Office and Homeland Security Investigations, who said they found hundreds of fake artifacts on display on shelves and in the interior of shop windows. Thousands more, they said, were found in the halls behind the gallery – including scarabs, statuettes and spearheads in various stages of preparation.
Matthew Bogdanos, head of the District Attorney’s Antiques Trafficking Unit, said in an interview that the visit revealed some sort of assembly-line process that seemed designed to distress and otherwise tamper with items. mass-produced from a recent vintage so that they appear to be aged. Investigators, he said, found varnish, spray paints, a belt sander and mud-like substances of different shades and consistencies, among other tools and materials.
Gary Lesser, an attorney for Mr. Sadigh, declined to comment on Tuesday.
The district attorney’s office said Mr Sadigh appeared to be one of the nation’s largest suppliers of fake artifacts due to the longevity of his business, the number of items seized from his gallery and his “financial gains. substantial ”.
Mr Sadigh had operated his gallery for decades, advertising on his website as “a family art gallery specializing in antiques and coins from around the world.”
Founded in 1978 as a small mail order business, the website said that in 1982 the gallery moved to an office suite on the top floor of a building on Fifth Avenue and 31st Street. East.
From his location there, Mr. Sadigh offered for sale items that he said were ancient Anatolians, Babylonians, Byzantines, Greco-Romans, Mesopotamians and Sumerians. The gallery website featured an antiques blog and testimonials from satisfied customers. Google reviews posted online were filled with customer accounts, some of whom said they had been shopping there for years and many of whom mentioned personalized service that they appreciated.
Among the items listed for sale on the website in late 2020 and early 2021 was a mummified falcon dated 305-30 BC. and a nickel fragment from a meteorite that landed in Mongolia ($ 1,500).
“All of our antiques are guaranteed to be authentic,” the site said.
Mr Sadigh came to the attention of investigators when other traffickers prosecuted for trafficking in looted antiques complained, Mr Bogdanos said, that “the guy who sold all the fakes” was being overlooked.
When investigators examined the Sadigh Gallery, Mr Bogdanos said, they did not find a cheap counterfeit sidewalk vendor, but someone “too big not to investigate.”
Among the objects that Mr. Bogdanos recognized in the gallery was a copy of an 11th century Khmer ceramic sculpture of a Buddha; the original had been seized by the district attorney’s office in a separate case. Other objects in the gallery appeared to be based on objects stolen from the Iraq Museum, thefts on which Mr. Bogdanos participated in the investigation while he was a navy colonel in Iraq in 2003.
(Mr. Bogdanos led an effort to recover thousands of items taken by looters during the fall of Baghdad.)
After Mr Sadigh’s arrest, prosecutors were granted a second warrant to search for tools used in altering antiques or “allegedly antique items” as well as items such as a sarcophagus valued at $ 50,000. , a cylinder seal valued at $ 40,000 and a statue of the goddess Artemis valued at $ 25,000, all suspected of being forgeries.
Despite his positive reviews online, Mr Sadigh had previously been linked with a dispute over the authenticity of the items he had sold.
In 2019, Iowa’s Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum canceled a planned traveling exhibit after Bjorn Anderson, professor of art history at the University of Iowa, said “the majority” of his items appeared to be fakes when sold by Sadigh Gallery
“I don’t know anything about it,” Mr Sadigh said in response, according to The times of the western branch, who reported the cancellation in 2019.