The longtime Manhattan gallery owner said in court that some clients thought the antiques they were buying were in fact modern knockoffs, simply made to look vintage.
Customers interested in all kinds of rare items from decades past – ancient coins, coffin masks, prehistoric fossils – went to Mehrdad Saadigh’s gallery near the Empire State Building in Manhattan. Items came with certificates of authenticity, and the gallery’s website was flooded with praise from customers who appreciated the indulgent touch they brought to their business.
“Everything I’ve achieved from you over the years has exceeded my expectations,” said one testimonial.
But Mr. Sadigh admitted during Tuesday’s sentencing hearing that much of his antiquities business was an elaborate scam.
“Over the course of three decades I have sold thousands of fake antiquities to countless collectors,” according to a statement he read at the State Supreme Court in Manhattan, adding, “I can only say that I am motivated by financial greed.” Was. .”
Investigators had said that many of the items he was selling were not centuries-old artifacts that had been discovered overseas and imported to New York, but rather counterfeit specimens, in the offices just behind his showroom. were mass-produced.
Mr Saadigh pleaded guilty to seven felony counts including forgery and grand theft. In a sentencing memorandum filed in court, the district attorney’s office demanded that Mr. Saadigh, who has no previous record of arrest, be sentenced to five years’ probation and banned from re-engaging in the sale of antiquities. Go, “both real and fake.”
Describing his plan in court, Mr. Saadigh said he had hired a company to flag, remove and bury Google search results and online reviews in order to hide his deception, which suggested that what they sold may be inauthentic.
Mr. Saadigh also acknowledged that others conjured up dozens of appreciative clients, to review his gallery with dazzling, but false, reviews.
After Mr Saadigh was arrested in August, prosecutors said he appeared to be one of the biggest advocates of counterfeit artifacts in the country based on his “substantial financial gains” and the longevity of his business.
Founded in 1978 as a small mail-order company, a website for Mr. Saadigh’s gallery said, the gallery moved to the top floor of a building on Fifth Avenue and East 31st Street in 1982. From that location, Mr. Saadigh offered to sell ancient Anatolian, Babylonian, Byzantine, Greco-Roman, Mesopotamian and Sumerian items.
Prosecutors said undercover federal investigators purchased a gold pendant depicting Tutankhamun’s death mask and a marble portrait head of an ancient Roman woman from Mr Saadigh’s gallery – paying $4,000 each.
Those sales became the basis for visits to the gallery by members of the District Attorney’s Office and the Department of Homeland Security Investigations. Officials said they found hundreds of fake artifacts on display at various stages of preparation and thousands more in back rooms.
Matthew Bogdanos, head of the District Attorney’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, said in August that Mr. Saadigh was using a sort of assembly-line process, involving varnish, spray paint, and a belt sander, that would convert contemporary mass-produced materials into a slick. was designed to change. items so that they appear aged.
In court on Tuesday, Mr Saadigh admitted that the items he sold had “an ancient patina through paint, chemical processes, and dirt on their surfaces” because it made them appear as if they were ancient treasures that had recently been discovered by archaeological sites were excavated.
Mr Saadigh’s prosecution was something of a departure by the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, which typically pursues people working in looted artifacts from places like Afghanistan and Egypt.
Mr. Saadigh came to the attention of investigators, Mr. Bogdanos has said, when the dealers were being chased for smuggling, the looted antiquities complained that “the man selling all counterfeits.”