Almost 200 looted Greek and Roman artifacts that were seized from a New York City museum were repatriated to Italy last week after an exhaustive investigation that involved the notorious Michael Steinhardt, a former hedge fund manager.
Most of them had arrived at the Fordham Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art courtesy of Edoardo Almagia, an accused antiquities smuggler from Italy.
The hoard, valued at an incredible $10 million, was repatriated under an agreement that was the largest ever such operation in the history of the nation of Italy.
Looted Greek and Roman artifacts part of network involving looters, smugglers, curators
Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, Jr. announced the return of the antiquities to the people of Italy during a repatriation ceremony attended by Italy Consul General Fabrizio Di Michele, Italian Carabinieri Brigadier General Roberto Riccardi, and U.S. Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Deputy Special Agent in Charge Erik Rosenblatt.
Vance stated “For years, prestigious museums and private collectors across the United States prominently displayed these Italian historical treasures even though their very presence in America constituted evidence of cultural heritage crimes.
“The repatriation of this dazzling collection of ancient art begins to address some of the damage done by traffickers and shows the need for all collectors and gallery owners performing due diligence and ensuring pieces they purchased were lawfully acquired.
“I am honored to return these 200 pieces to the people of Italy – our largest such transfer of antiquities to this illustrious nation. I thank my Office’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit and our partners at Homeland Security Investigations for their superb efforts that have resulted in more than 700 treasures being returned to 14 countries since August 2020.”
Steinhardt has also accepted a lifetime ban from collecting antiquities as part of the plea agreement made with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
The antiquities from Steinhardt’s collection that will be returned to Greece are from the Cycladic Islands, Crete, Central Greece, Samos, and Rhodes. They include a number of bronze swords, figurines, a Minoan shrine, a bronze griffin bust, and a kouros statue.
Fordham, Getty Museums, Steinhardt Collection forced to relinquish treasures
The hedge-fund titan and philanthropist’s collection of nearly 200 priceless antiquities from at least 11 countries, including Greece, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria, is worth an astounding $70 million.
Most of the Fordham loot was passed on to them by accused antiquities smuggler Edoardo Alga, however; he is still at large somewhere in Italy, the Italian authorities believe.
HSI New York Deputy Special Agent in Charge Erik Rosenblatt had harsh words for all those who raid the cultural heritage of countries and smuggle them abroad. “The organized looters and smugglers of illicit artifacts and antiquities are indifferent to what ‘priceless’ means, and continue to plunder and exploit the world’s cultural heritage for profit,” he stated to reporters.
“Today, we have the privilege to send home 200 pieces of stolen history to the government of Italy, and we will continue to use this momentum to hold traffickers accountable and dismantle these depraved organizations driven by greed.”
Like the Steinhardt investigation, which involved crack archaeological expert Christos Tsirogiannis, the Fordham investigation involved a dedicated group of people who were tasked with ferreting out the provenance of each object.
“Torn pages” from the book of history
Archaeology News Network reports that Italian Consul General Fabrizio Di Michele stated “It is a source of great satisfaction to see years of bilateral cooperation between the Italian and American authorities, and notably between the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, the Homeland Security Investigations, and the Carabinieri, resulting in the return to Italy of hundreds of precious antiquities, dating back as early as to 2500 years B.C.”
Among the objects returned last week as part of the looted Greek and Roman artifacts, 150 were seized as part of the investigation New York City resident Edoardo Almagia, who is himself a native of Italy.
The Manhattan D.A.’s Antiquities Trafficking Unit, created by Vance several years ago, began investigating Almagia several years ago for trafficking ancient art, selling it out of his own gallery and apartment in New York. The Antiquities trafficking Unit worked alongside along with law enforcement partners at HSI.
As most traffickers do, Almagia employed multiple tombaroli (“tomb raiders”) to loot and smuggle artifacts from all over his native country, including the southern and central regions, along with Sicily and Sardinia.
Even more disturbingly, Almagia utilized a “network of scholars, directors, and curators of the most important international museums” to find homes for his stolen objects, according to an expert’s findings that were accepted by a court in Italy. So far, the D.A.’s Office and HSI have completed 18 separate seizures of 160 antiquities the thad been trafficked by Almagia.
This includes ten pieces taken earlier in December from art collector Michael Steinhardt, which will be on their way to Italy soon.
Court documents filed in the criminal grand jury investigation of Steinhardt paint a picture of Almagia as a meticulous record keeper, maintaining a ledger labeled the “Green Book,” in which he listed many of the objects he sold, the price he paid tombaroli for each piece, the price he got for it, and even sometimes, the name to whom he sold the antiquity.
At times, the record states that he even provided clients with exact details of ongoing clandestine, obviously illegal, excavations.
Previous charges against Almagia for antiquities theft were dropped because of the statute of limitations.
The presiding judge described Almagia as “contribut[ing] to what was one of the greatest sacks of Italian cultural heritage, based on sheer amount of stolen goods,” and added that he and his co-conspirators have “torn pages from the book of Italian history.” Almagia remains at large in Italy.
One looted object to be repatriated, a krater decorated by the man known as the Baltimore Painter, dates back to 330 B.C. and is valued at $100,000; a 5th Century B.C. Hydria, with a value of $150,000 and a pithos depicting Ulysses, dating back to the 7th Century B.C. valued at $200,000, are also part of the booty seized in the investigation.