Old Town store owner gets jail for selling fake Indian jewelry

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — U.S. District Judge Judith C. Herrera sentenced Nael Ali of Albuquerque to six months in prison Tuesday for passing off jewelry made in the Philippines as Native American products.

Officials called the sentencing part of an ongoing “landmark” investigation bringing overdue recognition to the problem.

Ali, 54, who was convicted of violating the Indian Arts and Craft Act, previously pleaded guilty to two felony IACA charges and he was ordered to pay $9,048.78 in restitution, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“The tremendous contributions made by Native Americans to the cultural and artistic heritage of our nation must be preserved and protected,” said New Mexico U.S. Attorney John C. Anderson in a statement.

“This case and the continuing investigation demonstrates the Justice Department’s commitment to safeguard the rich culture and heritage of New Mexico’s Pueblos and tribes while promoting confidence in New Mexico’s rich art market,” he said.

The IACA is designed to prevent products from being marketed as “Indian made,” when in fact they are not. The law covers all Indian or Indian-style traditional and contemporary arts and crafts produced after 1935.

Charges against Ali and his co-defendant Mohammad Manasra, 58, also of Albuquerque, were the result of an ongoing federal investigation.

Law enforcement executed 15 search warrants in New Mexico and one in California in October 2015, including four at jewelry businesses in Albuquerque, three in Gallup, three in Santa Fe, and a jewelry production shop in Zuni. The Philippines National Bureau of Investigations conducted a series of investigative interviews at two factories in Cebu City, Philippines, officials said.

Manasra pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating IACA in October of last year and admitted fraudulently selling a Kokopelli pendant and earring set, two rings, a bracelet and an orange cluster pendant to an undercover agent. Manasra was sentenced in May to two days in prison and a year of supervised release. Manasra also was ordered to forfeit 5,268 pieces of Native-American style jewelry and to pay a $500 money judgment.

The continuing investigation is led by the Office of Law Enforcement for the Southwest Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Albuquerque Division of the FBI with assistance from Homeland Security Investigations, the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, and the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish. The U.S. Marshals Service and DEA assisted in the investigation of this case, officials said.

Edward Grace, acting assistant director of the Office of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, called it a “landmark investigation” bringing overdue publicity to the problem. He said he hopes the sentencing “will deter others who would seek to defraud consumers and undermine Native American artists.”

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