Hobby Lobby Agrees to Forfeit Over 5,500 Artifacts, Pay $3 Million in Settlement With Department of Justice

The popular arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby has agreed to forfeit over 5,500 ancient artifacts and pay $3 million in a civil settlement after the U.S. Department of Justice filed a complaint asserting that the items had been illegally shipped into the country from a dealer in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The company denies any intentional wrongdoing, but regrets its trust in the dealers and shippers of the goods.

“We have accepted responsibility and learned a great deal,” said Hobby Lobby President Steve Green in a statement. “Our entire team is committed to the highest standards for investigating and acquiring these items. Our passion for the Bible continues, and we will do all that we can to support the efforts to conserve items that will help illuminate and enhance our understanding of this Great Book.”

According to reports, in 2009, Green traveled to the UAE to review a number of cuneiform tablets and other artifacts as the company had begun acquiring historical and biblical pieces for its collection. As previously reported, the Greens plan to open the Museum of the Bible in Washington in November—a 430,000-square-foot facility that will house one of the world’s largest collections of ancient biblical scrolls, codices, papyrus fragments and other historical artifacts.

However, in obtaining a cultural property attorney for advisement on purchasing these particular pieces, Hobby Lobby was allegedly warned that there existed a chance that the goods may have actually been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq.

But the Greens moved forward in purchasing the artifacts for $1.6 million and an unidentified dealer shipped the items to the U.S., falsely labeling them as “ceramic tiles” and “clay tile samples.” The shipping labels also wrongly claimed that the items originated in Turkey.

Customs officials intercepted some of the boxes, and a year later, more boxes arrived that were falsely labeled as originating in Israel.

“American collectors and importers must ensure compliance with laws and regulations that require truthful declarations to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, so that Customs officers are able to scrutinize cultural property crossing our borders and prevent the inappropriate entry of such property,” Acting United States Attorney Rohde said in a statement.

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“If they do not, and shippers use false declarations to try to clandestinely enter property into the United States, this office and our law enforcement partners will discover the deceit and seize the property,” he said.

Hobby Lobby has expressed remorse over the situation and agreed to return all the items. The company explained that it was new to acquiring artifacts at the time and did not “fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process,” which “resulted in some regrettable mistakes.”

“We should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled,” Green said in a statement. “Hobby Lobby has cooperated with the government throughout its investigation, and with the announcement of today’s settlement agreement, is pleased the matter has been resolved.”

The company made clear that “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.”

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  • Robinske2

    OK- I can see the government forcing the company to return the goods, but why another 3 million in fines? Are there Anti-Christian activists in the Justice Department still looking to destroy the company for their stance that Marriage should be between a man and woman?

    • james blue

      Should the company, sorry, owner of hobby lobby be excused punishment because he is a Christian?

    • It has nothing to do with being Christian or Anti-Christian. It’s the law. They blatantly obstructed laws. They were warned, shipped under guise saying the items were something they weren’t & the shipping company posed as being from another place. Everything was nothing but sketchy. Had the Lord wanted them to have these artifacts, He would have made a way without it being so illegal. He would not have had them destroy His Name as well as their own in order to create a museum that He does not need.

      • James Alan Groome

        They should have never accepted or allowed any type of false origination documentation. If the items were purchased and then the shipment was entrusted to a customs broker then the broker may have been the one falsifying docs. Whatever the case falsification of shipping documentation most often results in the loss of the entire shipment to the importing country’s authorities.

    • Bob Johnson

      Usually smugglers go to jail.

  • FoJC

    According to the information in the article, it is apparent they knew something wasn’t right and they went ahead with the purchase. Now they’re doing the typical PR spin to make themselves look noble. This is what happens when a person decides that something is “technically right”, when in fact it’s deceptive.

    Follow Jesus, find Truth.

    • cadcoke5

      They were “allegedly warned that there existed a chance that the goods may have actually been looted”. This is different from saying that Hobby Lobby deliberately violated the law.

      Concerning the false labeling of the imports. I, have had this exact same thing happen to me. Through E-bay, I purchased a small electrical component from an Asian country, and it was labeled as a “gift”. Nothing in the vendor’s literature indicated that they would do something like this. There are some vendors that actually say they do this, and I do not use them. I am puzzled why the U.S. government does not simply search E-bay for the suspect vendors, and block all their shipments.

      • MCrow

        If they knew there was a chance that they were dealing in looted goods, they should not have done so. Bluntly, if they were warned, then they should bear the full consequences. Mislabeling is one thing, but 55,000 items all being accidental labeling is either gross incompetence or deliberate obfuscation. Also…I really doubt they acquired them from e-bay. These kinds of things are usually acquired via private sellers, i.e. black markets

        • cadcoke5

          I don’t know the source of the warning. But, it might have been like the lawyers often give. The lawyers try to cover every possibility, but may not have the ability to back up the warning with an absolute decision. It may simply have been a suspicion.

          How do I know if something I buy from anyone, or any business is stolen or not, or illegal in some other way?

          I personally have no awareness of the black market that you say is the usual means for selling these types of things. But, I am not a person, who would knowingly violate the law if I wanted to purchase some artifact. I would not know to speak to a person who was in charge of collecting these things to say they must check the laws concerning these types of purchases and make sure it is done legally.

          You said, “Mislabeling is one thing, but 55,000 items all being accidental
          labeling is either gross incompetence or deliberate obfuscation.” In my own example of the E-bay purchase, the mislabeling was done without my prior consent or even expecting them to do it. If I was not personally involved with unpacking my item, and didn’t notice the false “gift” label, I can easily see how I could have conducted many purchases through any vendor, without personal knowledge that the vendor was committing this crime.

          So, I could easily have fallen into the same trap. So, to me, Hobby
          Lobby’s statements are certainly viable. And given what I believe is
          their character, are believable. You seem to have the opposite feelings
          towards them for some reason.

          • MCrow

            Lawyers issue warnings when it is the best interest of their clients. According to the article, said lawyer is an expert in importing and was hired on retainer. The difference between you buying stolen goods and this case is pretty simple: they were, quite literally, told there was a non-negligible chance. If you bought something at a stall, you don’t really have a way to verify and assume they are acting in good faith. In this case, Hobby Lobby was told there was a decent chance.
            One of my better friends is actually an archeologist who does digs in the Middle East. She was the one who told me of the way archeological artifacts are often smuggled then sold illegally. We have also had ethics discussions on whether or not museums should obtain artifacts from foreign cultures. There’s also numerous articles easily found detailing such things.
            I have a general level of antipathy for people who think they are above the law. If it helps, I distrust most corporations and political figures for that exact reason. If I had been caught doing this, I’d be in prison, and usually with an “ignorance of the law is not an excuse” handed down by the judge, because I’m not a corporation.

          • cadcoke5

            I understand your points, though it seems that any corporation that has Christian owners seems to be in the cross-hairs these days. That is why I am more prone to believe Hobby Lobby’s take on it.

            In regards to your feeling about corporate free-passes, I don’t know how accurate that is.

            Music and video sharing, to deprive the copyright owners their due, is blatent and wide spreads. Just go to YouTube, and perform a search on “full movie” and you will get 185,000,000 hits. Most of them will be copyright violations. On a public forum it is mainly the user, who is the violator. But, YouTube doesn’t seem to care much either. They don’t even permit someone, who is not the copyright holder themselves, to report an obvious violation. To some extent, they have their fingers in their ears, and ads to sell with those violations.

          • MCrow

            I agree, though I think your argument proves my point more than yours: same idea. If I was caught hosting a bunch of videos, I’d be fined or jailed. YouTube, as a corporate entity, does not live by the same rules I do.

            As to Christian corporations, I’d like to point out that Hobby Lobby won the right to not give birth control to their employees due to their religious beliefs. Personally, I disagree with that, but that is the law. This was simply violating the law.

        • Nunyadambizness

          I know there’s a chance that I can win the lottery–It’s NOT the same thing as “knowing”, and it’s not fair to assume that it is.

          None of us know the details of this case, but based on past dealings with the company I choose to presume that they were innocently duped into importing these items. If I find out I’m wrong, I will change my position.

          • MCrow

            Being warned by a lawyer is a serious thing for me. If I had an attorney and they advised me that there was a chance I’d be breaking a law, I’d avoid doing that thing. They chose to ignore the warning, they broke the law as a result. I have little sympathy for them

      • Weary Warrior

        The government won’t block suspect vendors and miss an opportunity to fine naivé import purchasers like the Greens. $3,000,000 is a tidy little sum.

        • cadcoke5

          I can certainly see this as a possibility. With the government seeking to tax Christian groups like colleges and charities, unless they would pay for drugs they morally objected to. Taxes so high, as to quickly enable the government to seize all their assets. And add the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups, and it really does seem to be viable.

      • FoJC

        Since they publicly claim to be Christian, any chance of purchasing something which has been stolen should be shunned. They fudged a little. Now they must pay a price. All could have been avoided if they’d have prayed and listened before making the purchases.

  • “However, in obtaining a cultural property attorney for advisement on purchasing these particular pieces, Hobby Lobby was allegedly warned that there existed a chance that the goods may have actually been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq. But the Greens moved forward in purchasing the artifacts for $1.6 million and an unidentified dealer shipped the items to the U.S., falsely labeling them as “ceramic tiles” and “clay tile samples.” The shipping labels also wrongly claimed that the items originated in Turkey.”

    No museum is worth the testimony that this company has put in the public’s eye for so many years. Just one mistake – especially this huge – can tear down years of building up. They KNEW something was up. They were warned. They were shipped under guise of saying they were something else & even the shipping company posed themselves. They KNEW it was wrong. Their good name has now been blasted. Don’t get me wrong, I know we all mess up & are forgiven. I’m just saying how the public will see this. We’re waging a war within the outer darkness & they lost this battle. I hate this has happened though I’ll always love this company & everything they have in stock is incredible. Stay strong Hobby Lobby. I pray the lessons learned will only make you stronger in Him.

    • Weary Warrior

      They were “allegedly” warned. Maybe warned, maybe not warned. I agree with you, if they WERE warned, the very least they might have done was get another competent’s advice. The whole situation is very unfortunate as it reflects on their longstanding Christian witness.

  • This style 10/6

    Caught red handed!

  • george emmert

    Guess the liberals will want the artifacts turned over to the muslims for destruction.

    • zeddicuskotor

      So you are dumb enough to think that we would hand back artifacts to ISIS members. The artifacts would go back to the Iraqi government, whom are fighting ISIS.

      Thanks though for that monumentally stupid comment.

    • Croquet_Player

      You owe an apology to the family of Khaled Asaad, an 82 year old archeologist who was tortured and killed by ISIS for refusing to divulge the whereabouts of ancient artifacts. ISIS wants valuable artifacts to sell on the black market. Hobby Lobby has very likely funded terrorists by purchasing these items. They got off cheap with a three million dollar fine.

    • Zed & Croquet, you have to admit, the Liberals will do just about anything to jump on any opportunity to throw Christians or Conservatives to the dogs. I think that’s the only point George was trying to make in a sarcastic kinda way.

  • It was reported that the Israelis were involved in reporting Hobby Lobby. If the artifacts didn’t actually come from Israel, one wonders why they got involved.

    If the cuneiform tablets are those from Assyria that address the ten-tribed house of Israel under Assyrian bondage and dispersion, it might be because these cuneiform tablets expose the fact that today’s Jews and Israelis are not physical descendants of the biblical Israelites.

    For more see “Missing Links Discovered in Assyrian Tablets” by Archeologist Raymond Capt, in which Capt reveals the fate of the “lost” tribes of Israel from evidence provided in these tablets, at Missing Links Discovered in Assyrian Tablets by Archeologist Raymond Capt

    Capt uses archaeological evidence to verify the Christian-Israel message. Specifically a study of recently discovered Assyrian tablets, which reveal the fate of the “lost” tribes of Israel.

    Google “Missing Links Discovered in Assyrian Tablets” by Archeologist Raymond Capt.

  • Recognizing_Truth

    Yep, it’s important to punish someone who purchases artifacts from the Middle East so they can be preserved, and studied. Better to return them so they can be destroyed by the muslim horde waging war on their own people.
    Yep. Irony.

    • Cady555

      ISIS is funded by selling stolen artifacts.

      These artifacts were stolen from archeological sites. They cannot be definitively traced to ISIS because the provenance of the items is intentionally murky, but Hobby Lobby did purchase stolen goods and lie to import them into the US.

      Good thing they are christians, else they wouldn’t know right from wrong.