Gallery 8 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, sold fraudulent Indian art, federal authorities alleged in an indictment. Photo: Facebook

New Mexico trio charged for violating Indian Arts and Crafts Act

Three residents of New Mexico have been indicted for violating the Indian Arts and Crafts Act, the U.S. Attorney's Office announced.

Nael Ali, 51, Mohammad Abed Manasra, 53, and Christina Bowen, 41, are accusing of selling items that were made in the Philippines as Indian. Federal authorities say the trio sold the products to unwitting customers at two stores -- Gallery 8 and Galleria Azul in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and another Galleria Azul in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“The cultural heritage of American Indians is a precious national resource and it is critically important that we provide the proper respect to those whose creations are seen by some as simple retail commodities to be exploited for profit," U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez said in a press release.

The Indian Arts and Crafts Act is essentially a truth-in-advertising law. It bars people from marketing or selling their goods as Indian unless they were produced by a tribe or its members.

“By requiring truth-in-marketing of Indian art and craftwork, the Act is intended to protect Native American artists and artisans who rely heavily on the production and sale of traditional and contemporary art and craftworks to provide their economic livelihood, preserve their rich heritage, and pass along their unique culture from generation to generation," said Harvey Pratt, the chairman of the Indian Arts and Crafts Board, an agency of the Interior Department.

Ali is the owner of the three jewelry stores where the misleading goods were sold, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. Bowen was a manager formerly employed by Ali. Manasra is a wholesaler who sold the Philippines-produced items to Ali, the office said.

According to authorities, the fraudulent items were misrepresented as ones produced by members of the Navajo Nation with the initials "OY," "BB" and "CK." Ali and Bowen at one point claimed the jewelry was made by "Calvin Kee," a fraudulent name for a non-existent Navajo artist, the indictment stated.

Customers of the stores weren't the only ones duped, according to the indictment. The Oneida Nation of New York bought nearly $38,000 worth of products from Ali, authorities said.

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