Hobby Lobby’s Biblical Collection And Smuggled Artifacts
"Hobby Lobby, which is bankrolling the new Museum of the Bible slated to open in Washington this fall, got into legal hot water for its 2010 purchase of Mesopotamian clay tablets covered in cuneiform writing, along with engraved seals and tokens.
The ancient rarities originated in what is now Iraq, where for years looters — most recently ISIS — have laid waste to museums and archaeological sites and sold the spoils on the black market.
Months before the purchase, the company consulted with an expert, Patty Gerstenblith, about cultural property laws. Although she wasn't asked to advise the company on specific items, she said she warned that anything from Iraq — such as cuneiform tablets — carried a risk.
Nevertheless, Hobby Lobby went ahead and paid $1.6 million for 5,500 pieces that were then smuggled into the United States through Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
It wired the money not to the main dealer but to seven different accounts and accepted shipments at three locations. The packages, sent a few at a time, had misleading labels that listed the contents as "ceramic tiles" or "samples" from Turkey or Israel, according to court papers.
"To me, these are the tell-tale signs of someone who knows what they are doing is illegal," Gerstenblith told NBC News. "It looks like a subterfuge."