An indictment was unsealed yesterday in federal court in Brooklyn charging Mousa Khouli, also known as “Morris Khouli,” Salem Alshdaifat, Joseph A. Lewis, II, and Ayman Ramadan, with conspiring to smuggle Egyptian antiquities into the United States and conspiring to launder money in furtherance of smuggling.1 The arraignments of Khouli and Lewis are scheduled today before United States Magistrate Judge Andrew L. Carter, at the U.S. Courthouse, 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York. Alshdaifat’s arraignment took place yesterday before United States Magistrate Judge R. Steven Whalen, at the U.S. Courthouse, 231 W. Lafayette Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan. Ramadan, a Jordanian citizen residing in the United Arab Emirates, is a fugitive. The case has been assigned to United States District Judge Edward R. Korman.

The indictment was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and James T. Hayes, Jr., Special Agent-in-Charge, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), New York.

As alleged in the indictment, from October 2008 through November 2009, Lewis purchased a Greco-Roman style Egyptian sarcophagus, a nesting set of three Egyptian sarcophagi, a set of Egyptian funerary boats and Egyptian limestone figures from Khouli, who earlier acquired those items from Alshdaifat and Ramadan. Each of these antiquities was exported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and smuggled into the United States using a variety of illegal methods intended to avoid detection and scrutiny by U.S. Customs & Border Protection (“Customs”). Specifically, the defendants allegedly made false declarations to Customs concerning the country of origin and value of the antiquities, and provided misleading descriptions of the contents on shipping labels and customs paperwork, such as “antiques,” “wood panels” and “wooden painted box.”

Most of the smuggled antiquities have been recovered by law enforcement. The innermost sarcophagus of the nesting set was seized during a search of Khouli’s residence in September 2009. The middle sarcophagus and most of the outer sarcophagus were seized in November 2009, after they arrived via sea cargo at the Port of Newark, New Jersey. The Greco-Roman sarcophagus, funerary boats and limestone figures were seized during a search of Lewis’s residence on July 13, 2011. A civil complaint seeking forfeiture of Egyptian sarcophagi, Iraqi artifacts, cash and other items seized in connection with the government’s investigation was also unsealed this morning in Brooklyn federal court.

“This office will continue to vigorously enforce customs laws that restrict the unauthorized movement of antiquities,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. “Antiquities dealers and collectors are on notice that the smuggling of cultural patrimony will not be tolerated.” Ms. Lynch expressed her grateful appreciation to the personnel at the NSF Arizona Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory at the University of Arizona for their assistance in this investigation.

“This is a ground breaking case for Homeland Security Investigations. It is the first time an alleged cultural property network has been dismantled within the United States,” said ICE/HSI Special Agent-in-Charge Hayes. “In addition to smuggling cultural property, this case also focuses on significant money laundering activity. This is notable because the illicit sale of cultural property is the third most profitable black market industry following narcotics and weapons trafficking.”

If convicted, each defendant faces a maximum sentence of 20 years of imprisonment

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Karin Orenstein and Claire Kedeshian.

The Defendant:

MOUSA KHOULI, also known as “Morris Khouli”
Age: 37

Age: 37

1The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.