LOS ANGELES – An Antelope Valley man was found guilty by a jury today of illegally importing an ancient floor mosaic depicting the Roman demigod Hercules that is believed to have been made nearly two millennia ago.
Mohamad Yassin Alcharihi, 56, of Palmdale, was found guilty of one count of entry of falsely classified goods.
According to evidence presented at a 4½-day trial, Alcharihi in August 2015 illegally imported the mosaic – which dates from the era of the Roman Empire – by means of a false classification as to its value and quality. The mosaic arrived at Alcharihi’s direction at the Port of Long Beach as part of a shipment from Turkey.
The mosaic depicts a story from ancient Greek and Roman mythology depicting Hercules rescuing Prometheus, who had been chained to a rock by his fellow gods for stealing fire for humanity.
Alcharihi purchased the mosaic in 2015. Instead of disclosing to United States customs officials that he was importing a Syrian antiquity for which he had paid approximately $12,000 and that he knew was worth much more, Alcharihi lied to his customs broker and caused it to falsely declare that he was importing ceramic tiles from Turkey valued at less than $600. Alcharihi paid $40,000 to restore the mosaic and the government’s appraisal expert valued the mosaic at $450,000.
The false classifications occurred months after the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution condemning the destruction of cultural heritage in Syria, particularly by the terrorist organizations Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Al-Nusrah Front.
The mosaic was placed inside a large metal shipping container holding many vases and two other mosaics. An x-ray image of the container taken by CBP showed that the mosaic was hidden in the front of the container – away from the rear access doors – behind a pile of vases. After passing through customs, the mosaic was shipped via truck to Alcharihi’s home.
The mosaic is 15 feet long, 8 feet tall, and weighs approximately 2,000 pounds. It has been stored at a secure facility in Los Angeles since federal agents seized it from Alcharihi’s garage in March 2016.
United States District Judge George H. Wu scheduled an August 31 sentencing hearing, at which time Alcharihi will face a statutory maximum sentence of two years in federal prison.
The FBI’s Art Crime Team and Homeland Security Investigations – Los Angeles, Ventura Division investigated this matter.
Assistant United States Attorney Mark A. Williams, Chief of the Environmental Crimes and Consumer Protection Section; Assistant United States Attorney Matthew W. O’Brien, also of the Environmental Crimes and Consumer Protection Section; Assistant United States Attorney Maxwell Coll of the Asset Forfeiture and Recovery Section; and Justice Department Trial Attorney Christian A. Levesque of the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section are prosecuting this case.