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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
11/04/2013

Florida art gallery and owner charged with obstruction of justice in connection with importation of ancient Chinese artifacts

MIAMI – A Winter Park art gallery and owner were charged federally with obstruction of justice in connection with the importation of ancient Chinese artifacts that were interdicted at the Port of Miami.

The filing of charges follows an investigation by special agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Miami.

Lorin & Son, LLC, an art dealer, and Francois B. Lorin, 74, of Winter Park were each charged with one count of obstruction of justice. Lorin & Son, LLC faces a maximum $500,000 fine and up to five years’ probation, and Lorin faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The charging document also alleges forfeiture of the items in the shipment including various artifacts that were the subject of the alleged obstruction conduct. The case is assigned to U.S. District Judge Jose E. Martinez.

Lorin & Son, LLC conducted business under the name "Asiantiques," and bought and sold Asian art through a gallery in Winter Park and at trade shows and other industry meetings in the United States and Hong Kong. According to court documents, this matter involved the importation from Hong Kong of approximately 488 items of Chinese fine arts in June 2011, including certain cultural artifacts, through the Port of Miami. Twenty-seven of these items were subject to a prohibition against importation because they pre-dated 907 A.D. and constitute items of significant Chinese cultural heritage. Pursuant to a Jan.14, 2009, Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, archaeological materials representing China’s cultural heritage from the Paleolithic Period (c. 75,000 B.C.) through the end of the Tang Period (A.D. 907) could not be imported into the United States absent specific prior government approval. If, however, such items were already in the United States as of the MOU date, the items could be re-imported without prior authorization.

According to court documents, invoices accompanying the shipment indicated that the entire contents had originated in Florida and were being returned to the United States after having been shipped to Hong Kong for a trade show. After the items were interdicted by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspectors, Francois B. Lorin and others created false documents to justify provenance for certain items in the shipment that were prohibited from entering the United States without such provenance. Thereafter, Lorin & Son, LLC and Francois B. Lorin, through counsel, filed a petition for remission with CBP and provided supporting materials, in which they argued for release of the interdicted items by using false invoices and providing other false information. The invoices that were submitted were backdated, falsely claimed that items had been acquired from third-parties before the MOU date, and otherwise falsely claimed that these documents established "proof" that the items could be lawfully imported.

HSI plays a leading role in criminal investigations that involve the illegal importation and distribution of cultural property, including the illicit trafficking of cultural property, especially objects that have been reported lost or stolen. The HSI Office of International Affairs, through its 75 attaché offices in 48 countries, works closely with foreign governments to conduct joint investigations, when possible.

HSI's specially trained investigators assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. They also provide cultural property investigative training to law enforcement partners for crimes involving stolen property and art, and how to best enforce the law to recover these items when they emerge in the marketplace.

Since 2007, more than 7,150 artifacts have been returned to 26 countries, including paintings from France, Germany, Poland and Austria, 15th to 18th century manuscripts from Italy and Peru, as well as cultural artifacts from China, Cambodia and Iraq.

Learn more about HSI cultural property, art and antiquities investigations. Members of the public who have information about suspected stolen cultural property are urged to call the toll-free HSI tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or to complete its online tip form.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerrob Duffy in the Southern District of Florida. Forfeiture and repatriation is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Lehr.