SALT LAKE CITY — A federal grand jury indicted four defendants Wednesday on charges of smuggling Peruvian artifacts and interstate transportation of stolen property following an undercover probe by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
Cesar Guarderas, 70, and Rosa Isabel Guarderas, 45, naturalized U.S. citizens from West Valley City and Peruvian nationals Javier Abanto-Sarmiento, 39, and Alfredo Abanto-Sarmiento, 36, are named in the indictment. According to court records, the defendants allegedly illegally imported authentic cultural artifacts by using a contact at the National Institute of Culture of Peru who provided forged government documents certifying the items were replicas.
HSI special agents began investigating Javier Abanto-Sarmiento and Cesar Guarderas last October. By November 2012, an undercover special agent had arranged purchases of Peruvian artifacts from Guarderas, making a $3,000 down payment for two artifacts and later purchasing an additional 10 artifacts for $20,000. Investigators say Guarderas represented the items were authentic and not replicas. Experts from Utah Valley and Tulane Universities and tests conducted at a University of Washington, Seattle laboratory have determined the artifacts are genuine.
Over the course of the investigation, HSI special agents captured the defendants discussing the trafficking conspiracy including Cesar Guarderas saying Javier Abanto-Sarmiento had access to more than 100 pieces of pottery in Peru and was willing to ship them to the United States. They were also recorded discussing how the ring bribes officials in Peru to get the artifacts out of the country; and stating that they know where to look for buried pottery.
Cesar and Rosa Isabel Guarderas were arrested March 25 on a complaint. Federal prosecutors did not seek detention and the two were released. They are scheduled for arraignment Friday at 10:45 a.m. before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brooke C. Wells. Javier Abanto-Sarmiento was arrested by HSI special agents in Miami March 4 when he arrived in the United States from Peru. He is in custody and is being transferred to Salt Lake City by U.S. Marshals Service. Alfredo Abanto-Sarmiento, who is in Peru, remains at large.
The charge of smuggling goods into the United States carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Interstate transportation of stolen property is punishable by up to 10 years in prison. Each criminal count carries a fine of up to $250,000.
In 1997, the United States and Peru entered into a bilateral agreement prohibiting the importation into the United States of specific cultural property originating from Peru, including artifacts and ethnological religious objects.
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. Specially trained HSI special agents assigned to both domestic and international offices, partner with governments, agencies and experts to protect cultural antiquities. Since 2007, HSI has repatriated more than 6,600 items representing the cultural heritage of more than 24 countries.
Indictments are not findings of guilt. Individuals charged in indictments are presumed innocent unless or until proven guilty in court. The case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Utah.