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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
04/05/2013

HSI special agents, other Houston law enforcement arrest suspected art thief

HSI special agents and other Houston law enforcement arrested a suspected art thief and recovered 18 Chinese ivory Buddhist Lohans from the Qing Dynasty valued at $30,000.
HSI special agents and other Houston law enforcement arrested a suspected art thief and recovered 18 Chinese ivory Buddhist Lohans from the Qing Dynasty valued at $30,000.
HOUSTON — A suspected female cultural antiquities art thief was arrested Friday by special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and officers with Harris County District Attorney's Office, and Bellaire Police Department.

On April 5, law enforcement authorities executed a Harris County arrest warrant on Patricia DiCoste, 57. Simpson Galleries in Houston reported the theft April 1 of 18 antique Chinese ivory Buddhist Lohans from the Qing Dynasty valued at $30,000. HSI special agents were able to track the stolen artifacts to a high-end consignment shop in Houston where the figurines were later sold for more than $8,000 to a Houston-based auction house.

HSI special agents on Wednesday met with the auction house representatives and seized the statues. The ivory statues are now in the care and custody of the Harris County District Attorney's Office.

"HSI understands the cultural and historical significance of protecting a country's national treasures," said Brian M. Moskowitz, special agent in charge of HSI Houston. "Our special agents are at the forefront of the effort to identify and return these important items to their lawful owners in the same way we would want our global partners to return America's artifacts in the event they were ever stolen."

DiCoste is currently in Harris County Jail awaiting arraignment on felony theft, a state charge.

This arrest was conducted in support of Houston HSI's Operation "Hidden Relic." The initiative is designed to investigate, recover and repatriate stolen cultural property.

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.

This remains an ongoing investigation.

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 6,600 artifacts have been returned to 24 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.