A Florida man admitted conspiring to smuggle more than 1,300 artifacts from Pakistan into Virginia.
Some of the artifacts were unearthed from tombs and are between 500 and 6,000 years old.
The man responsible admitted he and two other conspirators provided customs officials with phony documents, claiming they had Pakistan’s permission to move the historic relics.
In court proceedings Friday, John Bryan McNamara, 51, admitted buying artifacts from Pakistan from 2007 to 2014. Some of those purchases included items obtained by “excavating human graves.”
McNamara, using the assistance of a Pakistan-based co-conspirator, resold Pakistani relics through his company Paleo Direct. McNamara admitted conspiring to structure his payments overseas and conspiring to submit fraudulent documents to mislead customs investigators.
Paleo Direct, a Florida-based company owned by McNamara, sells a series of fossils and cultural artifacts. Some of the items sell for more than $100,000 each.
McNamara pleaded guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy Friday and faces up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He declined to comment to News4 Friday after court proceedings.
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In his plea agreement, McNamara acknowledged conspiring to mislead the feds about an October 2013 shipment through Dulles International Airport. The shipment included 1,350 items, matching artifacts that are typically found in ancient tombs from 6,000 years ago, federal prosecutors said.
McNamara admitted making false statements to federal investigators when they questioned him about the shipment.
Prosecutors did not specify if any of the items from the Dulles shipment were resold, nor did they specify the identities of any buyers.
Federal agencies, including the FBI, State Department and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have recently issued warnings about the trafficking of ancient antiquities. In a September 2013 briefing in Washington, Homeland Security officials said the resale of historic relics can be challenging to track.
During the brief, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement special agent Thomas Mulhall said, “Usually buyers are private. Another issue that we’ve come across is if an item is difficult to sell, it may be donated. That’s when a museum or a university will acquire an item.”