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Cultural Property, Art and Antiquities Investigations
05/12/2008

Internationally recognized Asian antiquities expert indicted for wire fraud

Charges stem from ongoing federal probe into trafficking of Asian antiquities

NOTE: Defendant Roxanna Brown died on the morning of May 14 while in U.S. Marshals' custody in Seattle. It is anticipated that this case will be dismissed once official paperwork documenting her death is received by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES - An internationally recognized expert on Asian antiquities is expected to make her initial appearance this afternoon in federal court in Seattle where she was arrested late Friday on a federal wire fraud charge stemming from an ongoing multi-agency investigation into the importation of plundered antiquities from Southeast Asia.

Roxanna M. Brown, 62, director of the Southeast Asian Ceramics Museum at Bangkok University in Thailand, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles on Friday for allowing her electronic signature to be used on appraisal forms that, for tax purposes, inflated the value of antiquities donated to several Southern California museums.

Brown was taken into custody by special agents with IRS-Criminal Investigation and the National Parks Service. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is also involved in the ongoing investigation. Brown's prosecution is being handled by the United States Attorney's Office for the Central District of California.

The charges against Brown come four months after federal agents executed search warrants at four Southern California museums and the Silk Roads Gallery in Los Angeles. According to the affidavit filed in connection with the search of Silk Roads, the gallery's owners, Jonathan and Cari Markell, used Brown's electronic signature on several occasions to falsify appraisal forms so that collectors could claim increased tax deductions for objects donated to museums.

The search warrant affidavit details how an undercover agent posing as a collector approached the Markells in 2006 about donating several Asian antiquities to museums for charitable tax deductions. Jonathan Markell allegedly told the agent he normally charged $1,500 for an item or items that would be appraised at just under $5,000. Subsequently, the undercover agent met with the Markells at their home where he viewed a collection of Thai antiquities he had purchased from the gallery owners for $1,500 in cash. According to the affidavit, the Markells showed the agent an appraisal form purportedly prepared by Brown in which she claimed she had inspected the objects and valued them at $4,990. The items were ultimately donated to the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena.

The wire fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.