Art treasure dates from 3rd century Rome
A Palmdale man was found guilty this week of illegally importing a 2,000-pound ancient mosaic depicting the Roman god Hercules dating from the era of the Roman Empire by using fraudulent documents in hopes of avoiding import duties.
Yassin Alcharihi, 56, was convicted of one federal count of entry of falsely classified goods.
U.S. District Judge George H. Wu scheduled sentencing for Aug. 31. Alcharihi faces up to two years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Federal prosecutors say the relic, which is 18 feet long, 8 feet tall and weighs one ton, was looted from war-torn Syria and smuggled via Turkey. It depicts Hercules and other figures from Roman mythology.
Alcharihi illegally imported the mosaic dating from the 3rd or 4th century by means of a false classification as to its value and quality, prosecutors said. The mosaic arrived at the Port of Long Beach as part of a shipment from Turkey.
Alcharihi's federal public defender could not immediately be reached for comment.
The jury was taken to a secure area in the basement of the Los Angeles federal courthouse to view the antiquity.
Alcharihi purchased the mosaic in 2015. Instead of disclosing to United States customs officials that he was importing a Syrian antiquity for which he had paid about $12,000 and that he knew was worth much more, Alcharihi lied to a customs broker and caused the false declaration that he was importing ceramic tiles from Turkey valued at less than $600.
Alcharihi paid $40,000 to restore the mosaic and the government's appraisal expert valued the mosaic at $450,000. The false classifications occurred months after the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution condemning the destruction of cultural heritage in Syria.
The mosaic was placed inside a large metal shipping container holding many vases and two other mosaics. An x-ray image of the container taken by customs officials showed that the mosaic was hidden in the front of the Container–away from the rear access doors–behind a pile of vases. After passing through customs, the mosaic was shipped via truck to Alcharihi's home.
It has been stored at a secure facility in Los Angeles since federal agents seized it from Alcharihi's garage seven years ago.
A government spokesman previously said the mosaic could eventually be repatriated to Syria.