Dealers of Counterfeit Native Jewelry to Pay $300K Fine to Indian Arts and Crafts Board

Counterfeit Native-made jewelry undermines Indigenous-made designs as well as New Mexico’s vibrant market for traditional Native artwork.. (Interior)

Two New Mexico jewelry dealers who admitted to passing off jewelry made in the Philippines as Native American at their businesses in Albuquerque and Gallup, New Mexico, were sentenced last week in federal court to pay a total of $300,000 to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB), an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior. 

In addition to collectively paying the IACB $300,000, Jawad Khalaf, owner of Sterling Islands Inc., of Albuquerque, and Nashat Khalaf, owner of Al-Zuni Global Jewelers, of Gallup, must forfeit their interest in nearly $288,740 seized by investigators. Additionally, Jawad Khalaf will serve two years supervised release and perform 150 hours of community service, and Nashat Khalaf two years supervised release and 20 hours of community service. 

For more than a century, tourists throughout the southwest have sought to commemorate their journeys with Native jewelry. But opportunity led to the economic undermining of indigenous peoples with as many imitation roadside gift shops as authentic purveyors of Native-owned goods. Repeated complaints about the selling of misrepresented and counterfeit Native-copies finally led to the creation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act in 1935, making it illegal to falsely identify designs of any kind as being Indian-made. Violations are subject to civil and/or criminal penalties. The Act saw the creation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) to enforce the law. 

Today the IACB, created by Congress to promote the economic welfare of Native Americans through protecting Indian arts and crafts, upholds the amended Indian Arts and Crafts Act of 1990. 

The Khalafs pled guilty to misrepresentation of Indian-produced goods and services in April, and their sentence was handed down in August. 

“I want to express my appreciation for the hard work of the investigators and prosecutors who brought this case to conclusion,” said John C. Anderson in the same news release, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico. “It is the culmination of countless hours of diligent work and cooperation among our partnering law enforcement agencies on behalf of Native American artists and artisans. We stand ready to bring the power of the law to bear upon those seeking to profit from cultural theft.” 

The settlement reached in the case, United States of America v. 99,337 Pieces of Counterfeit Native American Jewelry et al, preserves the rights and cultural heritage of Native American artists. 

Fraudulent claims to Native-made undermines Indigenous-made designs as well as New Mexico’s vibrant market for traditional Native artwork.

READ MORE: SWAIA Saw the Pandemic’s Silver Lining: Santa Fe Indian E-Market 

“Tourism plays a vital role in New Mexico’s economy, and visitors need to have confidence when they take home a treasure from Indian Country that they have purchased authentic Indian art and craft work,” said Meridith Stanton, director of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board.

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