Edward Earle Johnson, aka “Dutch” has been arrested in Alabama and charged in Manhattan for wire fraud and selling stolen goods in connection with a 2002 theft from the Ma’adi Museum near Cairo in Egypt. Johnson is an active duty Chief Warrant Officer with the US Army, serving as a helicopter pilot.
In September of 2002 370 “pre-dynastic artifacts” were stolen from the museum, some dating to 3000 BC. Around 80 of those objects have been recovered by US authorities.
ABC News has a good overview of the story, with pictures, and has helpfully posted the unsealed complaint, sworn out by Senior Special Agent James McAndrew of the Homeland Security Department, specifically the Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The ICE press release announcing the arrest yesterday is here.
An interesting question to ask here is whether Johnson used military ships or aircraft to somehow smuggle these objects back into the United States. That would be particularly troubling. That’s just speculation on my part at this point, but it seems like a potential way for him to get those object into the US.
It is also important to note I think that this arrest stems from a theft from a museum. These objects were excavated in an archaeological dig in the 1920’s-30’s, and had been in a state collection. One interesting aspect of the case which may come to light later is how McAndrew and the ICE discovered these thefts. Did a scrupulous dealer come forward? Did someone notice these objects for sale? Were these objects cataloged and documented by the Egyptian culture ministry?
It can be extremely difficult to track stolen antiquities generally even where they have been excavated and on display, however the problems grow increasingly acute when we consider looted and illegally excavated objects, which are new to the market.