The Department of Justice on Wednesday filed to forfeit thousands of ancient Iraqi cuneiform tablets and clay bullae, or seals, illegally imported in 2010 by arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby.
Hobby Lobby agreed in December 2010 to purchase “over 5,500 Artifacts, comprised of cuneiform tablets and bricks, clay bullae and cylinder seals, for $1.6 million,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York announced in a release.
The artifacts “originated into the area of modern-day Iraq and were smuggled into the United States through the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Israel, contrary to federal law,” the office said.
Hobby Lobby imported artifacts including cuneiform tablets and clay bullae, or seals (photos via the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York)
According to the release, shipments of the artifacts lacked “the required customs entry documentation” and were labeled as tile “samples” and shipped to Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. “and two of Hobby Lobby’s corporate affiliates.”
Hobby Lobby “consented to the forfeiture of the artifacts” and “an additional sum of $3 million,” the office said, and agreed to make internal changes including personnel training, hiring outside counsel and submitting “quarterly reports to the government on any cultural property acquisitions for the next eighteen months.”
In a statement, Hobby Lobby president Steve Green said the company “should have exercised more oversight and carefully questioned how the acquisitions were handled.”
Hobby Lobby said it “was new to the world of acquiring these items, and did not fully appreciate the complexities of the acquisitions process.”
“This resulted in some regrettable mistakes,” the company said.
Green said that Hobby Lobby imported the artifacts as part of its “passion for the Bible.”
That passion reportedly led federal investigators to launch an investigation into the Green family that had been ongoing for four years in 2015 on suspicion of trying to import potentially illicit cultural artifacts from Iraq for their “Museum of the Bible.”
“Is it possible that we have some illicit [artifacts]? That’s possible,” Green told the Daily Beast at the time.