Arts and Crafts retailer Hobby Lobby is facing the music for allegedly dealing in smuggled ancient clay antiquities from Iraq. The company, which touts itself as having a commitment to “honoring the Lord,” has reportedly agreed to pay a $3 million fine to the U.S. Attorney’s Office to put to rest a civil action brought against Hobby Lobby by the Department of Justice.
“We are committed to…Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”
In addition to the substantial fine, Hobby Lobby has also agreed to forfeit all of the roughly 5,000 artifacts the company smuggled into the United States, reports TIME.
Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby reportedly purchased thousands of cuneiform tablets from the Middle East and arranged to have them shipped back to the U.S. via Israel and the United Arab Emirates. A DOJ press release claims that the company consented for the artifacts to be falsely labeled as tile samples for shipping purposes. In 2010, Hobby Lobby reportedly paid just $1.6 million for the large collection of unique antiquities, and the Justice Department has described the entire situation as being “fraught with red flags.”
As CNN reports, the smuggled antiquities were shipped to two Hobby Lobby corporate offices, as well as several retail stores.
According to the Justice Department, the artifacts in question involved ancient cuneiform tablets and clay bullae from modern-day Iraq.
In a statement released by Hobby Lobby, the antiquities are described as “historical Bibles and other artifacts.” According to the Christian-centric corporation, collecting these artifacts is consistent with the company’s stated mission and “passion for the Bible.”
Hobby Lobby went on to admit that the company should have “exercised more oversight” in acquiring the antiquities. According to the Department of Justice, the company was aware of and even consented to the “false labeling” of the artifacts.
“In 2009, Hobby Lobby began acquiring a variety of historical Bibles and other artifacts. Developing a collection of historically and religiously important books and artifacts about the Bible is consistent with the company’s mission and passion for the Bible.Hobby Lobby has cooperated with the government throughout its investigation, and with the announcement of today’s settlement agreement, is pleased the matter has been resolved.”
Hobby Lobby President Steve Green reportedly made an in-person inspection of the antiquities in question when he traveled to the UAE in 2010.
The U.S. Justice Department claims that there were numerous “red flags” that should have tipped Hobby Lobby off to the fact that their was something exceedingly fishy about the 2010 antiquities deal. Those red flags reportedly included receiving conflicting information about where the artifacts had been stored prior to inspection and not communicating with the dealer who had previously owned the antiquities or paying him directly for the tablets.
“Rather, following instructions from another dealer, Hobby Lobby wired payment for the Artifacts to seven personal bank accounts held in the names of other individuals.”
What’s more, the Department of Justice says that Hobby Lobby was warned by an expert that the antiquities were “likely looted and carried considerable risk.” Even so, Hobby Lobby moved forward with the purchase and allegedly smuggled the antiquities into the United States with false shipping descriptions.
Angel Melendez, the special agent in charge of the Hobby Lobby investigation, says that the now-forfeited antiquities are considered “priceless” by the Iraqi people.
“The protection of cultural heritage is a mission that Homeland Security Investigations and its partner US Customs and Border Protection take very seriously as we recognize that while some may put a price on these artifacts, the people of Iraq consider them priceless.”
While Hobby Lobby has been around since 1970 and grown from a $600 loan to more than 750 Christian-centric stores around the globe, the company may be best known for its challenge of the Affordable Care Act birth control mandate. It’s also unlikely that the $3 million antiquities fine will put a damper on the company; Hobby Lobby is currently in the midst of bankrolling a Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Price tag? $500 million.
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