Two Western Washington artists plead guilty to illegally misrepresenting their work as “Indian Produced”
Seattle – In two separate criminal cases, Western Washington artists pleaded guilty today to violations of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) by representing themselves as Native American artists, when they have no tribal enrollment or heritage, announced U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. The men, 52-year-old Lewis Anthony Rath, of Maple Falls, Washington, and 67-year-old Jerry Chris Van Dyke aka Jerry Witten, of Seattle, both pleaded guilty today and will be sentenced on May 17, 2023.
“When non-Native artists falsely claim Indian heritage, they can take sales away from true Indian artists working to support themselves with skills and techniques handed down for generations,” said U.S. Attorney Nick Brown. “Stores and galleries need to partner with artists to ensure those artisans and craftsmen advertised as Indian Artists truly have tribal status.”
The investigation of Jerry Van Dyke began in February 2019, when the Indian Arts and Crafts Board received a complaint that Van Dyke was representing himself as a Nez Perce Indian Artist, when in fact, he is not an enrolled tribal member. Investigators from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made undercover purchases at a gallery in the Pike Place Market area of Seattle that advertised pendants Van Dyke had made as Native American
art. Van Dyke used the name Witten for these sales. When interviewed by agents, Van Dyke admitted knowing about the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, and admitted he was not a tribal member. Through the gallery Van Dyke had sold more than $1,000 worth of carved pendants represented as Native American artwork based on Aleut masks. According to the plea agreement, Van Dyke had worked with the gallery for more than ten years, with the gallery owner providing him with woolly mammoth ivory, antlers, animal bones and fossilized walrus ivory to make the pendants that it sold.
Van Dyke pleaded guilty to Misrepresentation of Indian Produced Goods and Products. The crime is punishable by up to one year in prison.
The investigation of Anthony Rath began in May 2019, after a complaint to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. The investigation revealed that Rath falsely represented himself to be a member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe. Undercover agents purchased a carved totem pole and necklace from the same Pike Place Market gallery for more than $1,334. Agents noticed the gallery had other carvings by Rath that were represented as Native produced. At another shop on the Seattle waterfront agents purchased
another carved totem pole and a mask, again represented to be Indian produced. The biography of the artist at both shops falsely claimed that Rath was Native American. Internet sites Rath used to sell his artwork also falsely claim he is an enrolled member of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.
When agents executed a search warrant on Rath’s Whatcom County home and studio, they found he also possessed feathers from protected birds: golden eagles and other migratory birds such as hawks, jays, owls and more. Rath is forfeiting all those feathers to the government.
Rath pleaded guilty to Misrepresentation of Indian Produced Goods and Products, Unlawful Possession of Golden Eagle Parts and Unlawful Possession of Migratory Bird Parts. Misrepresentation of Indian Produced Goods and Products and Unlawful Possession of Golden Eagle Parts are punishable by up to one year in prison, while Unlawful Possession of Migratory Bird Parts is punishable by up to six months in prison.
“The Indian Arts and Crafts Board (IACB) is very pleased that Jerry Chris Van Dyke and Anthony Rath have been brought to justice for their roles in selling fake Indian artwork in violation of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act,” said U.S Department of the Interior IACB Director Meridith Stanton. The IACB is responsible by statute for administering the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, an anti-counterfeiting statute adopted by Congress aimed at ridding the Indian arts and crafts market of fakes like those being sold by defendants Van Dyke and Rath. “Cases like these are critical to preserving the integrity and viability of authentic Native American art and craftwork in general, as well as preserving the rich cultural heritage of the Nez Perce Tribe and the San Carlos Apache Tribe and the economic livelihoods of their artists and craftspeople,” Director Stanton added. “The IACB applauds the diligent work of the U.S. Attorney’s Office-Western District of Washington and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service IACA Enforcement Unit in investigating and prosecuting these important cases.”
“Protecting Native American culture and traditions is a critical part of the Indian Arts and Crafts Act,” said Edward Grace, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's dedicated team of special agents work on behalf of the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Indian Arts and Crafts Board to uphold the rule of law and ensure that those who choose to misrepresent the marketing of Indian arts and crafts products are brought to justice. Lewis Anthony Rath and Jerry Van Dyke took advantage of Native American artists and U.S. consumers for personal and financial gain and should be held accountable for their actions.”
Under the terms of the plea agreement Van Dyke and prosecutors will both recommend no prison term. However, the ultimate sentence is up to U.S. District Judge Tana Lin.
There is no agreed sentencing recommendation for Rath.
The cases are being investigated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney and Tribal Liaison J. Tate London.
Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Communications Director Emily Langlie at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@usdoj.gov.