WC’s readers complain from time to time that WC is to harsh in writing about religion and Christianity in particular. On the contrary, WC suggests that he has not been harsh enough. Those Christian exemplars at Hobby Lobby, those pious hypocrites who fought to keep from being required to provide birth control coverage to their employees? Their “Christian values” have been exposed.
This is a cunieform tablet, a clay slab with an ancient form of writing on it, probably from Iraq although no one knows for sure. It’s one of some 1,500 similar cunieform tablets, along with 3,000 clay bullae – balls of clay on which seals are imprinted – 500 cuneiform bricks, 35 clay envelope seals, 13 extra-large cuneiform tablets and 500 stone cylinder seals that Hobby Lobby tried to smuggle in to the United States. That’s right. Hobby Lobby. Those folks who were so worried about their Christian values they litigated it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hobby Lobby, caught red-handed, has admitted what it did. Here are the undisputed, stipulated facts:
In 2009, Hobby Lobby President David Green, began to assemble a collection of historically significant manuscripts, antiquities and other cultural materials. In July 2010, Green and a consultant traveled to the United Arab Emirates to inspect a large number of cuneiform tablets and other antiquities being offered for sale. Green was interested.
In October 2010, Hobby Lobby’s own expert warned the company that the acquisition of cultural property, including cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals, carried a risk that artifacts may have been looted from archaeological sites in Iraq. The expert also advised Hobby Lobby to review its collection of antiquities for any objects of Iraqi origin and to verify that their country of origin was properly declared at the time of importation into the United States. The expert warned Hobby Lobby that an improper declaration of country of origin for cultural property could lead to seizure and forfeiture of the artifacts by U.S. Customs.
Green pretty much ignored the advice, except to scheme to get around it. He paid $1.6 million for the whole lot. The transaction was ripe with fraud:
- The payment was sent to five different personal bank accounts, none of them in the name of the persons Green was dealing with.
- The artifacts were shipped to several different addresses in the U.S.
- The shipping labels falsely and misleadingly described their contents as “ceramic tiles” or “clay tiles (sample).”
- The country of origin was falsely identified as Turkey and Israel.
All of these are unmistakeable indications of illegality. Smugglers’ tricks. And Green knew. He’d already been busted for attempting to smuggle an antique Bible into the U.S. He’d been told by his own consultants and lawyers that he would be committing a serious crime. But Green’s Christian values apparently don’t extend beyond trying to control women’s reproductive systems.
The USDOJ brought a civil forfeiture proceeding. Under the settlement, Hobby Lobby forfeited all of the artifacts. And paid a civil penalty of $3 million. Hobby Lobby has to report to USDOJ any future “cultural acquisitions” for 18 months. A modest amount of karma for the folks who brought us Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.
But that’s a civil proceeding. It’s good that the artifacts will eventually go back to Iraq. The $3 million penalty is pretty light, but not trivial, either.
But why weren’t there criminal charges? If you or WC were caught in a scheme like this, you can bet your last dollar our asses would be indicted. More than 5,500 artifacts, violations of the both the National Stolen Property Act and half a dozen smuggling statutes. Serious charges, serious fines and some serious time in the pen.
Why wasn’t Green charged? He knew. He was told by his own advisors. Sure, he claims now that he didn’t know. But he was warned. He participated in what anyone would recognize as a smuggling operation. Why weren’t there criminal charges?
Hey, Attorney General Jeff “Law and Order” Sessions? Why no indictment? More “Chirstian values”?