Ex-museum director to surrender in theft of artifacts
The former director of Long Island University's Hillwood Museum is expected to surrender Wednesday morning on charges he stole nine ancient Egyptian artifacts from the collection and offered them for sale through Christie's auction house, his attorney said Tuesday.
Barry Stern, 61, of Oyster Bay, was charged with theft and lying to an FBI agent in a criminal complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Central Islip. Stern had worked at the museum for 22 years before his contract was not renewed in August.
According to the complaint, Stern delivered the artifacts to Christie's in August and September of last year, telling auction house officials he obtained them from his parents, who got them in 1955 from an unknown source.
The artifacts are wood, bronze, quartz and limestone models of Egyptian mythical figures and are all more than 2,000 years old, the complaint said.
Five of the pieces sold in December for $35,300, and Stern pocketed $26,869 of that total, the complaint said. Another three pieces sold for $16,200 in June, though Stern has not yet been paid, the complaint said.
It was the ninth and final piece, an Egyptian shabti made of faience quartz, that got Stern in trouble. It did not sell at the auction, so Christie's sent a fax addressed to Stern at the Hillwood Museum detailing a later offer, the complaint said.
A museum worker who recognized the artifact contacted Christie's, viewed its catalog and recognized other pieces - all of them from a collection donated recently by an unnamed benefactor, the complaint said.
When first interviewed in July by an FBI special agent, Stern denied having stolen the artifacts, the complaint said. Later, his attorney called federal prosecutors to admit his guilt, the complaint said.
In a statement, Paul Forestell, the provost of the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University, said Stern's "alleged actions violate expected standards of academic honesty and the preservation of historical and cultural objects held in the public trust."
Forestell added: "Every effort will be made to have the artifacts returned to the University. We value our collection and we are confident that adequate measures to preserve and protect the collection are in place."
A Christie's spokeswoman, Sung-Hee Park, said the auction house "fully cooperated, providing information in our files that was helpful in resolving the matter."