Four Individuals, Including Two Utahns, Charged With Smuggling Peruvian Artifacts Into United States
SALT LAKE CITY -- A federal grand jury returned an indictment Wednesday morning charging four individuals, including two residents of West Valley City, Utah, with smuggling Peruvian artifacts into the United States and interstate transportation of the stolen property.
Charged in the indictment are Cesar Guarderas, age 70, and Rosa Isabel Guarderas, age 45, both of West Valley City and Javier Abanto-Sarmiento, age 39, and Alfredo Abanto-Sarmiento, age 36, both of Trujillo, Peru. Both West Valley City residents are naturalized U.S. citizens.
According to a complaint filed in the case, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents initiated an investigation of Javier Abanto-Sarmiento and Cesar Guarderas in October 2012. Abanto-Sarmiento is the brother of Isabel Guarderas. Using an undercover agent, two Peruvian artifacts were purchased from Cesar Guarderas in November. Guarderas was given $3,000 at that time as a down payment for the two artifacts. The complaint alleges Guarderas represented the artifacts to be authentic, not replicas. Ten additional artifacts were purchased from Guarderas for $20,000 in November. The artifacts were examined by Utah Valley University and Tulane University professors, who are experts in the region and cultural time period. They were also tested at a laboratory in Washington. The artifacts were determined to be authentic.
According to the complaint, undercover telephone, e-mail and in-person discussions during the investigation corroborate the artifacts trafficking conspiracy between Javier Abanto-Sarmiento and Cesar Guarderas. Cesar Guarderas said Javier Abanto-Sarmiento had access to more than 100 pieces of pottery in Peru and was willing to ship them to the United States. Abanto-Sarmiento stated that he bribes officials in Peru to get the artifacts out of the country. Guarderas said Abanto-Sarmiento knows where to look for pottery buried in the ground and that he acquired some of his pottery using this method. Guarderas also said that Abanto-Sarmiento had a contact with the National Institute of Culture in Peru who provides him with authentic certifications stating that the pottery are replicas and Guarderas said that Abanto-Sarmiento uses the certifications to illegally export genuine artwork from Peru.
In December, HSI special agents in Salt Lake City detained a parcel originating from Peru and destined for the Guarderas residence in West Valley City. Special agents, who had a warrant to inspect the package, discovered eight artifacts inside the box. Special agents went to the Guarderas home a few days later and, according to the complaint, Guarderas, turned over eight additional artifacts from his garage. HSI special agents also have received an additional nine artifacts that were purchased by the undercover agent from Abanto-Sarmiento and shipped from Peru.
Abanto-Sarmiento was arrested by HSI special agents in Miami on March 4, 2013, as he flew into the United States from Peru. He is in custody and is being transferred to Salt Lake City by U.S. Marshals.
Cesar and Isabel Guarderas were arrested March 25, 2013, on a complaint. Federal prosecutors did not seek detention and the two were released. They are scheduled for arraignment Friday at 10:45 p.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brooke C. Wells.
Alfredo Abanto-Sarmiento, who is in Peru, has not been arrested.
The potential maximum penalty for smuggling goods into the United States is up to 20 years in prison. Interstate transportation of stolen property carries a potential 10-year sentence. Each count has a potential fine of $250,000.
Indictments are not findings of guilt. Individuals charged in indictments are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court.
The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Salt Lake City and investigated by HSI special agents.
In 1997, the United States and Peru, pursuant to the UNESCO Convention and the enactment of the U.S. Cultural Property Implementation Act, entered into a bi-lateral agreement prohibiting the importation into the United States of specific cultural property originating from Peru, including artifacts and ethnological religious objects.
HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illegal importation and distribution of cultural property, including the illicit trafficking of cultural property, especially objects that have been reported lost or stolen. Specially trained HSI special agents, assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 6,600 items representing the cultural heritage of more than 24 countries.