An Albuquerque jewelry dealer accused of selling counterfeit Native American art will be the first individual sentenced following a federal investigation into the $1 billion-a-year industry.
Nael Ali, who pled guilty to pawning off cheap imports as authentic Native American goods in October, will be sentenced next month. The case is seen as a test of whether a years-long federal investigation into fraud in the Native American art trade will yield substantive punishment that counterfeiters of indigenous work often evade. Passing off goods not made by Native Americans as authentic is a federal crime that comes with up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, though some view that as inadequate and offenders have rarely been prosecuted, reported National Geographic. The case against Ali is one of several to emerge from Operation Al Zuni, an investigation that spanned three years and saw authorities using invisible ink to track shipments of foreign goods that were then passed off as Native American after arriving in the United States. Authorities ultimately charged Nashat Khalaf, who runs the import and distribution firm Al Zuni Global Jewelry, and his family, along with four members of the Aysheh family, a seperate group who also ran a large-scale import operation. Lawyers for members of the Khalaf family deny the charges. The four Aysheh brothers have yet to enter a plea after being charged in February of last year. Their trial will begin in October.