Manhattan DA Seizes more matarial from Steinhardt

Images supplied by the Manhattan DA’s office of the objects seized from Steinhardt

Manhattan prosecutors have continued to pursue the seizure of antiquities in 2018. Yesterday the NYT reported that investigators seized several antiquities from Michael Steinhardt. Steinhardt has been the focus of much of the investigative thrust directed at the antiquities trade. Chasing Aphrodite thoroughly discussed Steinhardt in the recent seizure of a Bull’s head originating from Lebanon. Steinhardt is a noteworthy figure as he was an early pioneer in hedge funds, reportedly worth billions, who has also collected antiquities. One of the galleries in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is named for him. He has also continued to acquire antiquities even as investigations and repatriations have continued in recent decades.

The Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr. has done much to use his office to secure the return of looted antiquities. That trend looks to continue with the creation of a new Antiquities Trafficking Unit, led by  assistant district attorney Matthew Bogdanos, a Marine who investigated the theft and looting of antiquities from Iraq during the U.S.-led invasion in the early 2000s. The investigation into these objects joins a long list of other investigations that the Manhattan DA’s office has successfully undertaken in 2017, including the return of a marble bull’s head to Lebanon which had been on loan to the Met, the return of an ancient limestone bas-relief on display at the European Fine Art Fair a the Park Avenue Armory, the return of a remnant from one of Caligula’s ships perhaps stolen from an Italian Museum before the Second World War, and other investigations.

These investigations have resulted in the seizure of a great deal of material. Prosecutions of individuals remain elusive. Steinhardt has had very valuable antiquities seized from him before, yet he has continued to acquire this material. Whether this investigation will be able to change his behavior, and the behavior of others is an open question. The Manhattan DA’s office would not comment on the specific grounds for the seizures of these objects, other than the use of New York’s state theft statute. The NYT notes that though Steinhardt has had many object seized, he has not been the subject of any charges for possessing this allegedly stolen material.

The NYT reported that the material seized from Steinhardt included:

[A] Greek white-ground attic lekythos — or oil vessel — from the fifth century B.C., depicting a funeral scene with the figures of a woman and a youth, according to the search warrant. It is worth at least $380,000.

Also seized were Proto-Corinthian figures from the seventh century B.C., depicting an owl and a duck, together worth about $250,000. The other pieces included an Apulian terra-cotta flask in the shape of an African head from the fourth century B.C.; an Ionian sculpture of a ram’s head from the sixth century; and an attic aryballos, a vessel for oil or perfume, from the early fifth century. The objects were all bought in the last 12 years for a total cost of $1.1 million, according to the warrants.

  1. James C. McKinley Jr., Looted Antiques Seized From Billionaire’s Home, Prosecutors Say, The New York Times, January 5, 2018, (last visited Jan 6, 2018).
  2. Art Traffickers Beware: The Manhattan DA Is Deploying a New Unit to Combat NYC’s Antiquities Crime Wave, (2017), (last visited Jan 6, 2018).

3 thoughts on “Manhattan DA Seizes more matarial from Steinhardt”

  1. Bogdanos’ repatriation squad seems to be ramping up returns of artifacts that have been out of their countries of origin, sometimes for many decades. No one (especially elderly collectors) has contested his primary legal theory that NY’s second hand goods law requires dealers to undertake active due diligence and refuse to purchase artifacts illegally exported under obscure foreign law sdecades ago because he has used the threat of criminal prosecution to get what he wants— abandonment of the artifacts in question. So far, the primary beneficiaries appear to be Hezbollah dominated Lebanon, Iran and the much criticized cultural bureaucracies in Italy and Greece. Meanwhile, Bogdanos’ office has turned a blind eye to more recent crime, including sexual assault allegations against prominent Hollywood types. This should be concerning to all who care about due process. More so because the prosecutor in question clearly lacks the detachment required of such public officials, and seems more interested in drumming up publicity for himself and his office than doing real justice.

    1. Peter, all due respect, but your criticism of Bogdanos doesn’t make any sense here. Are you arguing these nations abandoned this material? That’s off base—the standard for abandonment is very very high. This material has been looted and illegally removed. The market incentivizes this looting. Steinhardt may bring legal challenges. He has the financial means to mount a legal defense. But hes defending the indefensible. He doesn’t appear to have asked the proper questions when he acquired this material. A committed prosecutor is doing his job.

  2. The reality is that this kind of material has been freely traded for generations. The source countries did absolutely nothing about it for years and indeed there are very prominent collectors of the same material in many of these same countries even today. I’m sure you are aware of the concept of laches. That should apply here to items long out of their countries of origin, particularly those which have been openly sold at auction. Prosecutors have ethical obligations to be fair and impartial. Does Bogdanos reflect these attributes? His actions, his proud association with the archaeological lobby and cultural bureaucracies in source countries, and his constant efforts at self-promotion argue otherwise.

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