For decades, customers interested in all sorts of rarities — ancient coins, sarcophagus masks, prehistoric fossils — went to Mehrdad Sadigh’s gallery near the Empire State Building in Manhattan. The items came with certificates of authenticity and the gallery’s website was filled with accolades from customers who appreciated the gracious touch he brought to his business.
“Everything I’ve gotten from you over the years has more than exceeded my expectations,” read a testimonial.
But Mr Sadigh admitted in a sentencing hearing Tuesday that much of his antiques business was an elaborate scam.
“Over the course of three decades I have sold thousands of fraudulent antiquities to countless unsuspecting collectors,” he said, according to a statement he read in the Manhattan State Supreme Court, adding, “All I can say is that I was driven by financial greed.”
Many of the objects he sold weren’t ancient artifacts unearthed abroad and imported to New York, researchers had said, but were fakes mass-produced in a jumble of offices just behind his showroom.
Mr Sadigh pleaded guilty to seven felonies, including charges of forgery and grand theft. In a criminal memorandum filed with the court, the prosecutor’s office asked that Mr Sadigh, who has no previous record of arrest, be sentenced to five years’ probation and never again be involved in the sale of antiquities, “both real and fake.”
In describing his plan in court, Mr Sadigh said that in order to cover up his deception, he hired a company to flag, remove and bury Google search results and online reviews that suggested some of what he had sold. may not have been authentic.
Mr. Sadigh also admitted to inciting others to post glowing, but false, reviews of his gallery, inventing dozens of appreciative customers.
After Mr Sadigh was arrested in August, prosecutors said he appeared to be one of the largest suppliers of fake artifacts in the country, based on his “significant financial gains” and the longevity of his company.
Founded in 1978 as a small mail order business, a website for Mr. Sadigh’s gallery said, in 1982 the gallery moved to an upper floor of a building on Fifth Avenue and East 31st Street. From that location, Mr. Sadigh offered for sale items that he said were ancient Anatolian, Babylonian, Byzantine, Greco-Roman, Mesopotamian, and Sumerian.
Prosecutors said undercover federal investigators purchased a gold pendant featuring Tutankhamun’s death mask and a marble portrait head of an ancient Roman woman — who paid $4,000 for each — from Mr Sadigh’s gallery.
Those sales formed the basis for a visit to the gallery by members of the District Attorney and the Department of Homeland Security. Officials said they found hundreds of fake artifacts and thousands more in back rooms at various stages of preparation.
Matthew Bogdanos, the head of the prosecutor’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, said in August that Mr Sadigh had used some sort of conveyor belt, with varnish, spray paint and a belt sander, that seemed designed to change today’s mass production. items to make them look older.
In court on Tuesday, Mr Sadigh admitted that the objects he sold had “an antique patina from paint, chemical processes and the addition of dirt to their surfaces” because it made them appear as if they were ancient treasures recently found at archaeological sites. excavated.
Mr Sadigh’s prosecution was sort of a premise of the Antiquities Trafficking Unit, which generally pursues people who trade in artifacts looted from places like Afghanistan and Egypt.
Mr Sadigh came to the attention of investigators, Mr Bogdanos said, when dealers pursued for dealing looted antiquities complained about “the man who sells all the counterfeits.”