Two West Washington artists accused of impersonating Native American sculptors

Seattle – In two separate criminal cases, artists in western Washington are charged with violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act (IACA) by posing as Native American artists, although they did not no tribal affiliation or heritage, announced US Attorney Nick Brown. The men, Lewis Anthony Rath, 52, of Maple Falls, Wash., And Jerry Chris Van Dyke, 67, aka Jerry Witten, of Seattle, made their first appearance on the complaints in Seattle U.S. District Court at 2 2:00 p.m. on December 10.

“Our special agents are investigating crimes that violate the Indian Arts and Crafts Act on behalf of the US Department of Home Affairs and the Indian Arts and Crafts Council,” said Edward Grace, deputy director of the Indian Department. United States Fish and Wildlife Service Law Enforcement Office. “By flooding the market with counterfeit Native American arts and crafts, these crimes deceive the consumer, undermine the economic livelihoods of Native American artists, and undermine Indian culture. We thank the Indian Arts and Crafts Board and the US Department of Justice for their assistance in these investigations.

The Jerry Van Dyke investigation began in February 2019, when the Indian Arts and Crafts Board received a complaint that Van Dyke was posing as an Indian artist Nez Perce, when in fact he is not a registered tribal member. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigators made undercover purchases at a gallery in Seattle’s Pike Place Market neighborhood that advertised pendants Van Dyke had made as Native American art. Van Dyke used the name Witten for these sales. When questioned by officers, Van Dyke admitted to being aware of India’s arts and crafts law and admitted that he was not a member of a tribe. Through the gallery, Van Dyke had sold more than $ 1,000 worth of carved pendants depicted as Native American works of art based on Aleut masks.

Van Dyke is charged with two counts of misrepresentation of Indian goods and products.

Anthony Rath’s investigation began in May 2019, after a complaint to the Indian Arts and Crafts Board. The investigation revealed that Rath had falsely presented himself as a member of the Apache tribe of San Carlos. Undercover agents purchased a carved totem pole and necklace from the same gallery in Pike Place Market for over $ 1,334. Officers noticed that the gallery had other sculptures of Rath which were represented as being produced by natives. At another store on the Seattle waterfront, officers purchased another carved totem pole and mask, again depicted as Indian-made. The artist’s biography in both stores falsely claimed that Rath was a Native American. The websites used by Rath to sell his works also falsely claim that he is a registered member of the Apache tribe of San Carlos.

When officers executed a search warrant at Rath’s home and workshop in Whatcom County, they discovered that he also possessed protected bird feathers: golden eagles and other migratory birds such as hawks, jays, owls and more.

Rath is charged with four counts of misrepresenting goods and products made in India, one count of unlawful possession of parts of golden eagles and one count of unlawful possession of parts of migratory birds.

Misrepresentation of goods and products made in India is punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Misdemeanor counts relating to bird parts carry a penalty of up to 1 year in prison.

The charges contained in the complaints are only allegations. A person is presumed innocent until proven beyond a reasonable doubt by a court.

The cases are under investigation by the National Fish and Wildlife Service. The cases are continued by the Assistant United States Attorney, J. Tate London.

Source: American DOJ

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