Jul 10, 2012

The Weiss Case: Pleading Guilty to Getting Duped


Two "genuine fake" ancient coins
My grandfather once had a shiny piece of jewelry (I think it was a cubic zirconia pinky ring) which he would describe as a "genuine fake diamond ring". He would say it fast enough that if you weren't listening close you thought he would just say 'genuine'.

Early this year a prominent physician, Arnold Peter C. Weiss, was arrested and charged with dealing in recently looted coins. Last week Weiss pleaded guilty to three counts of attempted criminal possession of the coins. He thought they had been recently excavated. But they were in fact modern forgeries—a predictable consequence of not asking enough questions about the history of these objects before their acquisition. Unlike Charles Stanish, who is heartened by these fakes which don't cause the looting of a site, I think these fakes do pollute our understanding of the past and defraud our collective cultural heritage.

Chasing Aphrodite reports that as part of the plea agreement reached with the Manhattan District Attorney's office, the defendant must serve 70 hours of community service, forfeit 23 other ancient coins seized, and pay a $3,000 fine. But he has some writing to do as well:

The court also required Weiss, the former treasurer of the American Numismatic Society, to write a detailed article in the society’s magazine detailing the widespread practice of dealing in coins with unclear ownership histories. It will describe the corresponding threat to the archaeological record and propose solutions for reforming the coin trade. In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office said, “Thanks to today’s disposition, the article to be written by the defendant for a coin trade magazine will raise needed awareness about unprovenanced coins, and will promote responsible collecting among numismatists.”
It should be a real page turner. I suspect Matthew Bogdanos, the Manhattan assistant DA had much to do with that writing assignment.

Paul Barford notes of the fakes:
Those coins always looked to me suspect, too fussy and the Akragas looked like it was a copy of another in a published collection, but who am I to question what the US authorities are up to, eh? (back in January, I was asked to keep my suspicions to myself, so did, but glad to see I am not going crazy). Anyway it turns out that those "priceless ancient coins" "weren't worth a wooden nickel".
Rick St. Hilaire thinks this case may be the start of increased use of state laws to police the illicit antiquities trade:
Indeed, all fifty states have receiving stolen property laws on the books, which can be applied in cases where a person is in criminal possession of stolen cultural property. The states also have "attempt" laws, which would cover a person's attempt to possess stolen cultural property or possession of forged cultural property believed to be authentic. Beyond these statutes, the states maintain consumer protection laws with applicable penalties to guard against the appearance of fraudulent and stolen items in the marketplace. The states also have nonprofit enforcement statutes that may be applied to specific cultural institutions or boards of directors that acquire illegal art, archaeological finds, or ethnological artifacts.
Let's hope so. But the same obstacle to state prosecutions exists for federal prosecutions as well. The trade makes it terribly difficult to gather sufficient evidence to establish wrongdoing in an anonymous trade. Bogdanos has been looking hard for a dodgy antiquities dealer to prosecute since the Baghdad museum looting. He has one now. But Weiss was duped by the under-regulated antiquities trade. Perhaps that notion will cause him to sit down to write his assignment with some real vigor (Peter, if you are reading, I'm happy to read a first draft). 
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