Four Southeast business owners and a seasonal employee face federal charges for allegedly selling inauthentic bone carvings represented as Alaska Native art.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated the businesses and discovered the carvings, which violate the Indian Arts and Crafts Act if sold as Native pieces, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Alaska.
Prosecutors charged Juneau residents and business owners Vinod "Vinny" Sippy, 38, and Norma Carandang, 60; Puerto Rican resident and Ketchikan business owner Gabriel Karim, 33; Skagway resident and business owner Rosemary Libert, 56, as well as Libert's seasonal employee, Judy M. Gengler, 65, of Huntington Beach, California.
Here are the defendants' businesses, according to the prosecutors:
Sippy owns Diamond Island, Icy Straight and Gemstone Heaven. Carandang does business as Northstar Gift Shop. Karim operates Alaskan Heritage in Ketchikan. Libert runs Lynch and Kennedy Dry Goods Inc. in Skagway.
They're all charged "for the illegal misrepresentation of bone art carvings as made by Alaska Natives or Indians, when in fact they were made by local non-native carvers," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. The charge is a misdemeanor, according to charge documents filed Thursday.
The maximum penalty for violating the IACA as charged against each of the defendants is a year in prison and a $100,000 fine, prosecutors said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Schmidt said such violations are prevalent in Southeast Alaska and not as common father north.
"It is something that occurs with some frequency here with the tourist trade," Schmidt said, adding that he hopes the charges are a deterrent to others committing similar violations.
Summer tourists complained to authorities that they were told the carvings were authentic when they were not, prompting Fish and Wildlife's investigation.
In the case against Carandang, a customer posted a complaint on the Northstar Gift Shop Facebook page in August 2015, writing that the $799 carving they purchased was not made by an "Alaskan Eskimo." That customer told Fish and Wildlife agents the Juneau business had promised a certificate of authenticity along with the carving in the mail.
The carving arrived without the certificate, according to the charges.
An undercover agent purchased a carving for about $975 the following month and was told the item was Tlingit and Haida, according to the charges. In September 2015, agents confronted Carandang about the purchase, and the shop owner allegedly admitted the artist "is not Native, he's just Alaskan," the charges say.
Agents similarly purchased carvings for hundreds to over a thousand dollars at the other Southeast shops caught up in the sting and then confronted the owners about their authenticity.